Inoculation begins for some Olympic athletes

LONDON • Several countries, including Israel and Denmark, yesterday confirmed they would vaccinate their athletes and staff against Covid-19 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, amid global debate over whether athletes should be given priority access in the roll-out.

Global coronavirus cases surpassed 100 million yesterday, according to a Reuters tally, as countries around the world struggle with new virus variants and vaccine shortfalls.

Still, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has encouraged participants to get vaccinated even though it will not be mandatory but those who choose not to will likely face plenty of restrictions, including quarantine.

Israel, which currently leads the world on per capita vaccinations, confirmed it had already inoculated half of its Olympic athletes delegation, telling Reuters via e-mail that “by the end of May 2021, all… will be completely vaccinated against the coronavirus”.

Denmark is taking the same approach, with chef de mission Soren Simonsen adding “approximately 150 athletes and 200 officials” would get the vaccine.

Hungary’s national Olympic committee also said its athletes would be vaccinated “in a few weeks”, while the Belgian Olympic Committee (BOIC) has asked its government for “400 to 500” vaccines for its Olympic athletes and their entourage to travel to the Tokyo 2020 Games, set to run from July 23 to Aug 8. Noting that they are not asking for preferential treatment, Dr Johan Bellemans, chief physician of the BOIC, told Sporza TV: “Obviously, we don’t want our athletes to be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Other countries remain hesitant to prioritise athletes over those more in need of the vaccine, while there are those who are just sceptics. United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) medical chief Dr Jon Finnoff told Reuters: “I have had athletes raise concerns about are there any long-term ramifications associated with it… There will likely be a mix of people who want the vaccine and a small percentage who do not.”

While USOPC has yet to issue an official policy, Dr Finnoff said the body might consider purchasing vaccines when they become available to the general public as priority remains healthcare workers and the medically vulnerable.

The World Anti-Doping Agency maintains athletes should have no hesitation in taking the vaccine with all research and data showing inoculation will have absolutely no impact on performance.

REUTERS

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