Australian athletes and officials heading to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the games.
- The decision puts the athletes in phase 1b of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program
- Japan declared its third COVID-19 state of emergency last week
- The Tokyo Olympics start in late July, with the Paralympics following in late August
The federal government said the vaccine would be given to around 2,050 people nominated by the Australian Olympic Committee and Paralympics Australia.
Late last week, Japan declared its third state of emergency with daily coronavirus infections exceeding 5,000.
About 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 across the country, and more than half a million infections have been recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Tokyo Olympics start in late July, with the Paralympics following in late August.
Most athletes would have fallen into phase 2b of the national vaccine rollout, which is not due to begin until much later into 2021.
But this decision puts Australia’s team into phase 1b of the program, which is currently underway.
“We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
It is a decision which has been welcomed by the head of Australia’s Paralympic team.
Paralympics Australia chief executive Lynne Anderson said the announcement had given many athletes certainty, less than four months out from the start of competition.
“Today’s confirmation provides a new and important level of assurance for our team during what has been a Games preparation filled with uncertainty,” she said in a statement.
“As part of the Government’s national rollout, a number of Paralympic athletes and support staff were classified under priority group 1b, due to their level of impairment and as such, some team members have begun the vaccination process.”
“However, for the rest of our team members, some of whom face the prospect of travelling overseas in the coming weeks for qualification events before heading to Tokyo, this decision allows complex planning to proceed with more certainty.”
Either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine will be available for the athletes and officials, based on their age.
The Pfizer shot remains the preferred vaccine for Australians under the age of 50.
“While vulnerable Australians remain an absolute priority as the vaccine rollout continues, National Cabinet understands the pressure our high-performance athletes have been facing as the Tokyo Games draw closer,” Sport Minister Richard Colbeck said in a statement.
“This will be a very different Olympics and Paralympics, but our athletes deserve the opportunity to compete.”
Athletes will be ‘relieved’ to get vaccine, AOC boss says
Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll said there would be hundreds of “very grateful athletes, coaches and their families relieved to know that their hard work over five years has been worth it”.
“This added layer of assurance is what they were seeking,” he said.
Mr Carroll said the AOC would work with private contractor Aspen Medical, to ensure the vaccinations did not put any extra burden on the public health system.
He added the AOC was developing its own protocols to ensure athletes and officials stayed safe while in Japan.
“We are awaiting the second iteration of the Tokyo health and safety playbook and a further playbook in June,” he said.
“Our own specific measures will be finalised once we have that complete picture.”
Paralympics Australia has also been contacted for comment.