The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee took a stronger stance on the COVID-19 vaccine than many other American sports league on Wednesday. USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland announced all staff, athletes and facility workers are required to get their shots by Nov. 1 if they haven't already, in preparation for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
USOPC personnel must show proof of vaccination by Dec. 1, but exemptions will be awarded in certain medical and religious circumstances. Hirshland said the vaccination requirement will continue into every Olympic and Paralympic event going forward.
No other American sports league has a COVID-19 vaccination mandate, although the NHL -- which will begin sending players to the Olympics ahead of Beijing 2022 -- enacted strict protocols such as allowing teams to suspend unvaccinated players if they miss time. The New York Islanders illustrated how serious the league is taking COVID-19 by banning an unvaccinated minor-leaguer from playing for the team.
The International Olympic Committee along with most other national Olympic committees -- including the USOPC -- recommended but didn't require athletes participating in the 2020 Tokyo Games to get vaccinated. Still, the USOPC said 83% of its athletes were vaccinated while the IOC estimated 85% overall had their shots.
"The stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over," Hirshland wrote in a letter obtained by the Associated Press. "This step will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparation and service to athletes."
Team USA plans to send nearly 240 athletes to the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to start Feb. 4 and will likely have testing and social-distancing requirements akin to the ones Tokyo implemented for the Summer Games.