Should COVID cancel the Olympics (again)?
For reasons less than perfectly clear to me, Yahoo finance keeps inviting me to come back not to finances, but to the pandemic and public health.
Whenever we do this, we usually have a common understanding before the relevant topics of interest. For my most recent interview, however, one of the presenters surprised me by asking: should the Olympics be canceled?
I gave the most obvious answer – before improvising a bit on the risk / benefit tradeoffs: it’s not up to me. However, I have since found myself preoccupied, wondering what the decision should be and what it would be if it have been to me. The answer seems obvious enough: to require vaccination of all participants.
Before a story of ideology starts to stir up dogma, let’s be clear that it wouldn’t “force” anyone to get the vaccine. It would be a case of “if you want A, you have to do B. By analogy, no one is “required” to obtain a driver’s license, but you must get one if you want to drive on public roads. Likewise, anyone can withdraw from the Olympics; but adhering to it would mean getting vaccinated.
Let’s start with the basis of the Olympic controversy, which clearly induces dissenting passions and attracts fairly widespread attention. There is a clear argument against holding the Olympics now: They have potential as a COVID19 super-spreader event.
This risk is compounded by incredibly low vaccination rates in Japan, the host country, as well as rising SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates in Japan earlier, as the Games approach.
But there are also compelling arguments for it. For the great mass of us who are not directly involved, the world could just use an invigorating dose of Olympic medicine right now. The Olympics remind us of both why and how to combine national pride with global humanism. They inspire us with indelible demonstrations of human achievement pushing back the frontiers of the possible. Advancing the limits of human potential is not limited to sport, and the Olympic example is a spur of all these ambitions. Ultimately, the Eternal Olympic Flame is a beacon of hope – for the better, faster, stronger, higher in each of us, and for all of us – and the world could sorely do with such hope in this. moment.
All of this says nothing about the athletes themselves. The fulfilled dreams of a small number of athletes may be trivial compared to the pandemic plight of millions of people. But then again, the fate of dreams has intrinsic value. If anything distinguishes the sanctity of human life, it is the infusion of life for the purpose of living it. The Olympic dreams and the ardor which they impose embody the allocation of life to the demanding demands of a determined life. I see something important in this that goes far beyond the dreams of athletes, to the very foundations of human dream and purpose. It might be romanticism on my part, but the Olympics are about love.
Even if we limit the relevance of dreaming to athletes only, there is merit there. For that select group representing the outer limits of human performance, the Olympics can literally be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Canceling them not once, but twice would surely be one of the measures of the pandemic’s toll on both lives and their lives.
Let us now see how the vaccination required for all – for which there is still time to act quickly, and for which stocks of unused vaccine are clearly available – addresses valid concerns and mitigates relevant risks.
Since the widespread deployment of the various COVID vaccines, we have gathered extensive and concrete evidence that fully vaccinated people are very unlikely to contract COVID, are extremely unlikely to contract severe COVID, and are very unlikely to transmit COVID. As a result, rates of viral transmission or disease to, from or within the Olympic population of athletes, coaches, staff and spectators would be extremely low if all were vaccinated in advance.
To be clear, the risk may not be zero, but neither is the risk for any other infectious disease on the planet. The risk of “getting sick” after attending an event, anywhere, in a large congregation has never been zero.
We had never previously demanded “zero risk of getting sick with anything” as a gathering criterion, and neither should we now. The idea that only zero risk is acceptable is one of the many distortions induced by the pandemic. It is nonsense. We can only approach zero risk to life and physical integrity if we stop living our lives or using our limbs a lot. Few of us would sign up for this.
If the risk of COVID – both transmission and damage – is equal to or less than the predominant threshold for “background noise” of epidemiological risk, then the disruption of societal norms is no longer necessary, nor justified. This appears to be the case for vaccinated populations, and we are therefore witnessing rapid changes in public policies.
But what about the Olympic population mingling with the general population of Tokyo, where vaccination rates are low? There are three relevant considerations here:
1) Vaccination will largely protect the Olympic population against acquisition of COVID even if exposed to it among the unvaccinated Japanese host population.
2) This risk could be further reduced by limiting the mixing of these two populations and, for example, by requiring vaccination of all staff and guests in indoor facilities (eg, hotels, restaurants) serving the Olympics.
3) As an additional precaution, the measures previously relied on – distance, masking – could be maintained for interactions outside the Olympic venue.
The benefits of these fairly obvious measures go beyond whether to host our Olympics and prevent them from being a very widespread event.
They would also demonstrate the potential of many other public / private partnerships to help immunize a higher percentage of the world’s population. In this case, the resources of all those with a vested interest in the Olympic Games – the host country, the IOC, the media involved, corporate sponsors, governments sending athlete delegations – could be coordinated to ensure immunization. efficiency of all participants. Pooled resources could and should be directed towards obtaining and administering the necessary vaccines.
Once this ground is broken, why stop on the outskirts of an Olympic village? The world should seek out all reasonable interest groups that might replicate this effort.
The world – to say nothing of the athletes and their lives of intense and urgent preparation – could really do with the Olympics now. The last thing the world needs, however, as we sail into the light at the end of our pandemic tunnel, is a global super-spread event to push us back.
The solidly validated efficacy and safety of COVID vaccination, and the feats of science that got us here in record time, provide us with the means to retain the many benefits while avoiding, almost completely, any risk specific to the virus. pandemic of the holding of these Olympic Games in Tokyo. in July.
We have the means to save these Olympics and to protect public health as well. It would be my choice. With these settings in place, my answer to this question, if it were up to me, becomes: let the games begin.