Australia makes vaccination mandatory for Tokyo-bound Paralympians

MELBOURNE, May 25 (Reuters) - Australia has made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for Paralympic athletes heading to Tokyo because unvaccinated members on the team could pose a health risk, chef de mission Kate McLoughlin said on Tuesday.

The policy is out of step with the International Paralympic Committee which is encouraging athletes to get vaccinated but has not made it mandatory for the Aug. 24-Sept. 5 Paralympics.

“If we have unvaccinated people in the team, it poses a risk to both those athletes or officials who refuse to have the jab, because we know that there will be COVID in the village,” McLoughlin told state broadcaster ABC on Tuesday.

The Australian Olympic Committee has followed the International Olympic Committee’s lead in making vaccination voluntary for able-bodied athletes going to the July 23-Aug. 8 Tokyo Olympics.

McLoughlin said Paralympic Australia’s (PA) policy meant some prospective Paralympians could be barred from going.

“It could be was a very difficult decision to come to, but we’ve mulled over it for a while now,” she said.

“At the end of the day, we have to keep everyone on that team safe.”

She said PA was in discussions with a small number of athletes who did not want to be vaccinated.

“I could count on one hand the number of people who we are in discussions with -- it’s very few,” she added.

Much of Japan remains under emergency curbs as authorities battle a fourth wave of COVID-19, while the country has vaccinated just under 5% of its population, the slowest rollout among the world’s larger, rich countries.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by Jason Neely