Leading Japanese vaccine researcher Yoshiharu Matsuura delivered a definitive statement over the weekend concerning whether the 2020 Summer Olympics will take place in Tokyo next year. “They want to push ahead with the Olympics next year and they are saying the only way for that to happen is the vaccine,” Matsuura told Sky News about the sentiment from the country’s organising committee. There is no denying Tokyo 2020, rescheduled for July 23 to August 8, 2021, is dead in the water right now. On Sunday, Japan recorded its fourth consecutive day of 1,000 or more cases as the country continues to grapple with a third wave of the coronavirus. Russia’s fast-track efforts to create a vaccine have been met with heavy scepticism , but it brings out a relevant point – the race to vaccinate is most definitely going to be a political one. Japan is notoriously slow at producing and approving vaccines, Matsuura said, a professor at the Research Foundation for Microbial Disease of Osaka University. He said strict regulations make the process slow and arduous, taking about a decade to properly produce and administer. An improper vaccine could actually have the reverse effect and make the coronavirus stronger, something called “antibody dependent enhancement”. Matsuura also said young healthy people should not get vaccinated, so where do nearly all of the 11,000 athletes stand? To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Japan will have to outsource its vaccine if it wants to pull off these Games, which will add another complicated layer to what will surely be an incredibly contentious issue. Tokyo 2020 Olympics receive record US$3.3 billion sponsorship lift We don’t have to go far to find athletes who are not fans of vaccines of any kind, the most notable being Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic. Djokovic’s anti-vaxxer stance was exhibited in April during a Facebook Live chat when he was asked about having to get a vaccine to travel and play around the world. “Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.” Djokovic’s stance aside, vaccines and the word “mandatory” should never be used together. In the US, which has 328 million people, it is estimated about half to 70 per cent of the population needs to develop immunity to Covid-19, either naturally or through vaccination, to thwart the spread of the virus. But less than a third regularly get flu shots every year, and two-fifths express serious reservations about vaccine safety, which could prove problematic when trying to mass administer a coronavirus vaccine. Assuming a vaccine is available, will Japan require mandatory vaccination for athletes to compete in its Olympics, and what will the International Olympic Committee’s stance be on all of this? Elite athletes are on strict diets, nutritional plans with various vitamins, supplements and prescription medication like the rest of us. Olympic athletes are finely tuned machines, and unlikely to risk taking an unproven, rushed vaccine. ‘Hope and uncertainty’ over Covid-19 delayed Olympics: Tokyo governor If Japan does have the virus under control and convinces the population to come on board with mass vaccinations, that still leaves the problem of tourists and all the other stakeholders. If anyone entering the country cannot show a vaccination certificate, will they offer one upon arrival? And how do they verify someone has got an approved vaccine? Even with all this in place, an outbreak during the Games would surely derail it on the spot. Djokovic points to where we stand as a modern society in a lot of ways. He is neither a scientist, nor a doctor, but he has millions of fans who will listen to him much more intently than someone like Matsuura. He added insult to injury concerning his own stance in trying to host an exhibition series in Serbia and Croatia, which was shut down after he and a number of players tested positive for Covid-19. The anti-vaxxer crowd is a tiny portion of the population, but has proven adept at grabbing headlines via celebrities and notable figures. No one wants to see the Olympics cancelled, but in rushing a vaccine for Covid-19 amid pressure to do so, will there be a higher cost?