• EXPLAINER: Why Japan has been slow to roll out vaccinations
    The Canadian Press

    EXPLAINER: Why Japan has been slow to roll out vaccinations

    TOKYO (AP) — Japan's rollout of COVID-19 vaccines began belatedly in mid-February, months behind the United States and many other countries. Officials blamed a shortage of Pfizer Inc. vaccine from Europe as the main culprit in the delay. But three months later, with shipments stabilized and officials attempting to accelerate vaccinations, Japan remains one of the world's least protected. Officials say there is a critical shortage of trained staff to give shots. Despite Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pledge to have all eligible people fully vaccinated by the end of September, some officials say it could take until next year. It will be impossible for Japan to achieve protective “herd immunity” in the two months before the Tokyo Olympics are to begin. It's uncertain whether Japan's already-strained healthcare system can treat extra visitors during the games as it struggles to handle local patients and mass inoculations. Suga's government is facing heavy pressure from a public increasingly frustrated by the slow vaccine rollout and repeated declarations of states of emergency. Many now oppose hosting the Olympics. ___ WHY THE VACCINE DELAY? The slow start was because Japan requested domestic clinical trials in addition to Pfizer Inc.’s testing in other countries. Dozens of nations accepted the results of Pfizer's multinational tests released in November and began vaccinations. The additional testing in Japan took extra months, though the government then took just two months to grant its approval for the vaccine, much faster than the typical one year. The vaccine made by Moderna Inc. is to be approved later this month after a similar process for use at two large-scale inoculation centers in Tokyo and Osaka. Approval for a third, AstraZeneca, is pending. ___ WHY DID JAPAN ASK FOR MORE DATA? People in Japan are often skeptical about foreign-made drugs, especially vaccines, and officials say they needed to thoroughly address safety concerns. Pfizer's international tests were conducted from July to November on about 44,000 people in six countries, including about 2,000 Asians. Japan requested tests on 160 Japanese people, triggering criticism that testing such a small number added little but delay. Japanese health officials have defended the delay as necessary to build confidence in the vaccine. But Suga has recently acknowledged a need to adapt rules to cope with the emergency. ___ WHY IS VACCINE CONFIDENCE LOW? Japan’s mistrust of vaccines is decades old, partly because side effects have often been played up. In the 1990s, the government scrapped mandatory inoculations after a court ruling held it responsible for side effects linked to several vaccines. More recently, Japan stopped recommending the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine after media reports of alleged side effects, renewing concerns despite its widespread use overseas as protection against cervical cancer. ___ WHAT IS JAPAN’S VACCINE TIMELINE? Inoculations started in Japan in mid-February and only about 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Less than one-third of the 4.8 million prioritized medical workers have received their second shots as of Wednesday. Vaccinations for 36 million elderly people began in mid-April, and about half a million have received their initial shots. The government aims to finish their second shots by the end of July, at least a month behind the original schedule, but about 15% of municipalities say they still need more time, according to a government survey this week. Health experts and some officials say it may take until next spring for the rest of the population to be vaccinated. ___ DOES JAPAN HAVE ENOUGH VACCINE? Japan has secured the supply of 344 million doses, enough to cover its entire population, through the end of this year. That includes 194 million doses from Pfizer, 120 million from AstraZeneca and 50 million from Moderna. Vaccine shipments picked up in May, and health ministry data show that about 7 million doses are currently sitting unused in freezers, despite initial concerns of supply shortages. Officials say their bigger concern is a shortage of medical staff to administer the shots. Only doctors and nurses are allowed to give them in Japan's conservative medical culture. Dentists are willing to help and are authorized, but have not been called upon. Getting shots from pharmacists at drug stores as in the U.S. or from volunteers with no medical background other than brief training as in Britain remain unthinkable in Japan. ___ IS JAPAN DEVELOPING ITS OWN VACCINES? Several Japanese companies and research organizations are developing possible coronavirus vaccines, including some that are being clinically tested. Shionogi and Co. said recently it hopes to get its vaccine candidate approved by the end of this year. Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. will distribute the Moderna vaccine and produce the Novavax vaccine in Japan, and JCR Pharmaceuticals Co. will produce the AstraZeneca vaccine under a licensing deal. Experts say vaccine development is unpopular in Japan because of its risks, the time-consuming process and a lack of government funding. Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

  • Troy Ryan to coach Canadian women's hockey team in 2022 Winter Olympics
    The Canadian Press

    Troy Ryan to coach Canadian women's hockey team in 2022 Winter Olympics

    CALGARY — Troy Ryan has been rewarded for his patience. He'll be the head coach of Canada's women's hockey team in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The 49-year-old from Spryfield, N.S., was named head coach of Canada's world championship teams in 2020 and 2021. Both tournaments in his home province were cancelled, however, because of COVID-19. Hockey Canada still wants to host the 2021 tournament Aug. 20-31 in a city yet to be named. The pandemic limited Ryan to just three camps with the Canadian women's team this winter, although he's continued to build relationships with players and staff virtually. "It's definitely not how you would script it," Ryan told The Canadian Press. "Some of the negative sides we've had right now can end up being positives because it forces you to work a little bit differently. "Any time you work differently, there's some new things you learn about each other for sure." Ryan was Canada's assistant coach from 2016 to 2019. He was a member of the Olympic team staff in 2018 when Canada lost the final to the United States in a shootout under head coach Laura Schuler. Of the 28 players invited to congregate in Calgary in late July to both try out for the 2022 Olympic team and prepare for Beijing, 14 played for Canada in 2018. Ryan was also an assistant to Perry Pearn in the 2019 world championship in Finland where Canada took bronze. Midway through the 2019-20 season, Ryan took over for Pearn and posted a 3-1-1 record in games against the Americans. So many players Ryan will coach in Beijing have a history with him, albeit one interrupted for several months because of the pandemic. "He's a very deliberate coach," said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada's director of national women's teams. "He's been very aware of what the group needs at all times, even when he was an assistant coach with Perry. He was always on my mind as someone who could take this program on. "Even if he hasn't had the chance or the opportunity to have a whole lot of camps or events with our group, even how he's managed our group in this pandemic, and the relationships he's built, the trust he's built, these players want to play for him. "He is the guy to lead us for sure." The pandemic shutting down international women's hockey hasn't allowed Ryan to build a large body of work as Canada's head coach, but he hopes that will change when the team is together in Calgary. "I've had maybe 15 practices with this group," Ryan said. "We haven't had that on-ice time, and that's what I'm most excited for." "When we made the calls to the people that did get selected for centralization, that was one of the messages I wanted to tell most of them was, although I love camp, I'm just very excited to have a centralized group where we can work on things on a daily basis." The Canadian women usually play a regular slate of games against males in the Alberta Midget Hockey League while they're centralized. Ryan may also finally get to coach the women in a world championship if the summer tournament happens. "If you look at it from the positive side, you start centralization, you formulate a team, you win a world championship. What a great way to start a centralization," he said. "If you have your world championship and you don't win, at least you have a gauge there now. You can work on those things that need to be worked on to obviously prepare you to ultimately win a gold medal at the Olympics. "Obviously I'd take option A any day." Ryan coached the Dalhousie University's women's hockey team in Halifax this season. He's also coached university and Junior A men's teams in Atlantic Canada. Ryan played forward for the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, Saint Mary's Huskies and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Halifax Mooseheads. Ryan's assistants are Kori Cheverie of New Glasgow, N.S., Jim Midgley of Townsend, Ont., and Doug Derraugh of Arnprior, Ont., as well as goaltending coach Brad Kirkwood of Calgary. Derraugh, the head coach of Cornell's women, will not relocate to Calgary, but will still support Ryan throughout the season and be in Beijing with the team. Cheverie is an assistant coach of the Ryerson Rams men's hockey team. She became the first full-time female assistant coach in U Sports men's hockey history in 2016. Midgley was head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads in 2017-18 and was an assistant coach of the German league's Iserlohn Roosters in 2019-20. The coaching staff was chosen by Kingsbury, Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney and president Scott Smith in consultation with senior vice-president of national teams Scott Salmond and management consultant Cassie Campbell-Pascall. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2021. Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

  • USOPC to Congress: Beijing Olympic boycott not the solution
    The Canadian Press

    USOPC to Congress: Beijing Olympic boycott not the solution

    DENVER (AP) — A boycott of next year's Beijing Olympics will not solve any geopolitical issues with China and will only serve to place athletes training for the games under a “cloud of uncertainty,” the head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee wrote to Congress on Thursday. CEO Sarah Hirshland sent the two-page letter that put a more official imprint on the long-held USOPC stance that Olympic boycotts harm athletes and do little to impact problems in host countries. Her letter specifically addressed those who believe a boycott of the Winter Games next February would serve as an effective diplomatic tool to protest China's alleged abuses toward Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong residents. She said that while the USOPC is also troubled by actions in China that “undermine the core values of the Olympic movement ... an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues.” Hirshland offered a history lesson about the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 in protest of the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. That prompted the Soviet Union and several Eastern bloc countries to respond in kind at the Los Angeles Games four years later. More than 450 U.S. athletes who had qualified for Moscow never had a chance to compete in the Olympics. “To make matters worse, their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit,” Hirshland said. “The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade. ... Both the 1980 and 1984 Games tainted Olympic history and showed the error of using the Olympic Games as a political tool.” Activists, along with some members of Congress, have been pushing for a boycott, or to relocate the games. Last month, the Biden Administration got mixed up in articulating its own policy about a possible boycott; the U.S. State Department suggested an Olympic boycott was possible, but a senior official later had to clarify by saying keeping the U.S. team home had not been discussed. The choice of whether to boycott would ultimately be up to the USOPC, but political pressure could weigh heavily, especially with Congress becoming more involved in the U.S. Olympic team's operations in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal that led to calls for more oversight and reform. In her letter, Hirshland argued that the Olympics can be used to raise awareness of human rights issues. But she did not highlight the 1968 Olympics, which were punctuated by protests by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the likes of which the USOPC has said it would not punish going forward. Instead, Hirshland referenced Russia's passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation before the Sochi Games in 2014. “The Olympic and Paralympic community shone a light on inequality in practice, and the Sochi Games became a turning point in the effort to highlight the contributions and inclusion of LGBTQ+ athletes in global sport," she wrote. She said the new generation of Winter Olympians were working hard to represent the U.S. next year in Beijing. “Please give them that chance," she said. "They do not deserve to train for the games under a cloud of uncertainty about American participation in the games.” Eddie Pells, The Associated Press