Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew of Encinitas defends decision to remain unvaccinated

Michael Andrew is aiming for multiple medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

Andrew contracted COVID last year, says he didn’t want to risk vaccine


On a media teleconference with U.S. swimmers before leaving for the Tokyo Olympics, Michael Andrew was asked if had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

He paused before answering.

He had not.

“I knew the moment I answered that question this is going to blow up,” Andrew said. “I was definitely prepared for it. What’s more important for me is to speak truth and understand and stand up for what I believe in.”

It blew up. The Encinitas resident with an unconventional training regimen is believed to be the only unvaccinated U.S. swimmer among the 53 in Tokyo, was called “selfish” by a USA Today columnist and sparked a social media war among current and former Olympians.

It actually was old news. Andrew said back in January he didn’t intend to get vaccinated, noting he had already contracted COVID-19 and presumably had natural immunity.

“It’s not that I’m against vaccines at all,” he told the Union-Tribune earlier this month. “Obviously, I was vaccinated for certain things when I was younger. It’s a vaccine that hasn’t been around that long and I don’t know what it’s going to do to my body, and I’d rather not take the risk before the most important few weeks of my life as a performer.”

He’s not alone. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s chief doctor said about 83 percent of Team USA is vaxxed, which, doing the math, means about 100 athletes are not. Among them is 1,500-meter runner Cole Hocker, the surprise winner at the U.S. Trials and at 20 the youngest male to make the team in that event since 1968.

Internationally, the number of unvaccinated athletes is believed to be between 2,000 and 3,000 out of the 11,000 competing in Tokyo.

But Andrew appears to be carrying the torch for the unvaccinated, and getting torched.

Maya DiRado, a double gold medalist in 2016, made an eight-part Twitter post expressing her disappointment at his decision. Tom Shields, a butterflier on the U.S. team, replied: “What part of that responsibility involves shaming one of our Olympians on the eve of competition?”

Anthony Ervin, himself a gold medalist, added: “Maya, he was infected with wild Covid in December, and thus has a natural immunity.”

Some doctors consider natural immunity as robust as vaccines, and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach groups them together when discussing athlete protections against COVID-19. Protocols at the Games don’t differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, the USOPC’s chief physician, is a staunch advocate of the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of a previous positive test. “Infection alone may produce some immunity,” he said, “but it is variable in both how well it protects you and how long it protects you.”

The IOC, and by extension the USOPC, does not require vaccinations to compete in Tokyo, although USA Swimming is known to have pressured Andrew to get one.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinions,” Andrew said. “I, for one, know I am not a selfish athlete. I actually strive to be very generous and love those around me. I’m very fortunate and blessed to live in a country where we have freedom to speak, and I hope that’s never taken away. People are welcome to say whatever they like.”