Tokyo Accepts Cuban Athletes Vaccinated with Soberana 02

Illustration: Wimar Verdecia

By Jorge Carlos De La Paz (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – Just days before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games kick off, which were postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still doubts about the dangers involved in holding this event.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) conceived a series of measures alongside the Japanese government, allowing the summer games to go ahead between July 23rd and August 8th 2021, and the Paralympic Games from August 24th until September 5th, bearing in mind the pandemic’s evolution in Japan and the rest of the world.

This competition will be atypical, as foreign spectators won’t be able to attend and there will be restrictions on movement, as well as hygiene and physical distancing regulations, with the aim of preventing COVID-19 transmission.

Nevertheless, the most significant measure to endure the event’s success was the agreement made between the IOC and Pfizer and BioNTech labs to provide vaccines to athletes from every delegation, as well as to all other personnel: trainers, doctors, massage therapists and physical trainers. This would be in their home countries.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding, between Pfizer-BioNTech and the IPC on May 6, 2021, the company would donate “doses of the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine to Games participants from National Olympic and Paralympic Committees around the world.”

However, the exact number of doses donated by the pharmaceutical company isn’t specified in the memorandum. It is estimated that 11,000 athletes will participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and 4400 athletes will participate in the Paralympics, from over 200 countries, which will suppose a donation of 30,800 vaccines just for the athletes, and then there are the doses needed for the multidisciplinary teams that make up every delegation.

It is up to the National Olympic Committees to coordinate the number of doses needed for their delegation, as well as delivery details, with the IOC and Pfizer-BioNTech.

“Within the framework of the Memorandum, the National Committees and local governments should coordinate the administration of vaccines with Game qualifying participants. Doses supplied will be on top of doses supplied by virtue of supply agreements with governments worldwide. The donation of vaccine doses will not affect supplies of doses to national populations under supply agreements,” the document states.

COVAX, the global vaccine initiative, was one of the ways the doses were to be delivered to athletes, which has added doses for athletes in addition to deliveries to national governments, ever since March.

It’s important to repeat that athletes won’t be vaccinated in Japan, but previously in their home countries.

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine is the first mRNA vaccine authorized for human use and provides immunity by introducing the genetic material (RNA) into the body. It is administered in two doses, regulatory bodies have approved the vaccine in over 60 countries, and it has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).


Cuba set its bets on developing its own potential vaccines, and it’s hoping to vaccinate 70% of the population by August, as well as all of the athletes that will take part in the Olympic Games.

The National Institute of Sports and Recreation (INDER) has stated that it hopes 74 athletes qualify for the competition in the Japanese capital. Up until July 3rd, the island had sixty-nine Olympic tickets: athletics (18), wrestling (12), boxing (7) and judo (6), canoeing (5), shooting (5), weightlifting (4), table tennis (2), beach volleyball (2), swimming (2), modern pentathlon (2), taekwondo (1), artistic gymnastics (1), cycling (1) and rowing (1).

The baseball team didn’t qualify after being knocked out in the pre-Olympic tournament in Florida, in the first week of June. Therefore, Cuba won’t be represented in any of the team sports.

All the athletes that qualified, as well as their trainers, health experts, managers, etc., will have been vaccinated with Soberana 02, which is administered in two doses, as well as an extra booster of Soberana Plus.

Doctor Pablo Castillo, director of the Institute of Sports Medicine explained on TV show Mesa Redonda emitted back on June 9th, that INDER’s staff had all been included within the Soberana 02’s trials, which involves monitoring the effects of this potential vaccine. He added that members of the Cuban delegation that will be present at the Paralympic Games will also be vaccinated.

Up until now, it has been confirmed that this covers 115 persons, distributed in boxing and wrestling partners, their team technicians and IMD personnel, who were vaccinated the Soberana 02’s doses during the III phase of clinical trials, ever since March 25th.

It has also been revealed that every player on the baseball team had been vaccinated on this day before departing for the US, while those who traveled straight from Japan received a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

What are the Olympic Committee’s requirements?

Will the International Olympic Committee accept the presence of athletes vaccinated with a vaccine other than Pfizer-BioNTech; and even if this vaccine hasn’t been officially approved? The answer is yes.

The Japanese authorities called all delegations arriving in Tokyo to get vaccinated if they can, according to national vaccine guidelines in their own countries. However, being vaccinated is not a requirement for participation in the Games.

Why is this allowed?

Not every athlete taking part will have the opportunity to receive a vaccine in their home countries. Likewise, Japan has established the principle of people’s willingness, just like other countries have who are immersed in vaccination campaigns.

Nevertheless, Japanese authorities have written up a rigorous manual alongside the IOC, known as the Playbook or Guide for athletes, which outlines every protocol that will be adopted during the course of the competition, in great detail. These measures will be applicable to all participants, no exceptions, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.

As a result, Cuban athletes vaccinated with Soberana 02 will be treated under the same regulations as those competitors who haven’t received any vaccine.

The 2020 Tokyo guidebook stipulates that masks must be worn at all times, as well as social distancing, and an exhaustive system of tests, tracing and quarantine.

Before traveling, every delegation needs to have medical and repatriation insurance that covers COVID-19 cases, and it must be valid for the entire duration of their stay in Japan. The national organizing committee of host Japan will provide this insurance to athletes and team officials, and it will only be valid from the pre-opening ceremony, up until when the Olympic Village is closed.

Furthermore, it stipulates that PCR tests must be taken on two different days within 96 hours before their departure to Japan.

On Thursday June 3rd, Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced that vaccinating athletes was the safest path forward to reduce the risk of transmission. In an interview with the New Day show, on CNN, the expert insisted that Olympic athletes should go to the games vaccinated; however, he did not mention which vaccines should be used or differences between them, at any point.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.