Australia could prioritise Olympic athletes for vaccine

SYDNEY – Australia is considering allowing its hundreds of Olympic athletes and support staff to jump the queue and get the coronavirus vaccine before heading to the Tokyo Games, a report said Friday.

Earlier this month, the government in Canberra joined a growing number of countries halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for younger people over fears it can cause serious blood clots.

It slowed the national rollout further, raising fears that the athletes could miss out as rival nations like the United States race ahead with inoculations for their Olympians in the face another wave of infections in Japan.

Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck told broadcaster ABC that the government was in talks over whether to vaccinate Australian athletes and staff as a priority.

“The government is in direct contact with the AOC (Australian Olympic Committee) over its proposal to priority vaccinate all Olympic team athletes and support staff,” he said.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics is scheduled for July 23, just over three months away. The AstraZeneca vaccine requires 12 weeks between doses, although the Pfizer one needs just 21 days.

Australia has been one of the world’s most successful countries in containing the spread of Covid-19, with fewer than 30,000 cases and 1,000 deaths in a population of 25 million, and virtually no ongoing community transmission.

But it has fallen far behind the government’s own schedule for vaccinations, with barely a million doses administered so far.

The AOC has previously insisted it does not want to jump the queue, but the slow pace of the rollout has complicated matters with numerous athletes hoping to head overseas next month to fine-tune their preparations.

“(The vaccine) is very important… in terms of looking after the health and wellbeing of athletes, and also giving them the confidence they’ve been vaccinated is very important to their performance,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll told reporters this week.

IOC president Thomas Bach has said vaccination is not a requirement for athletes competing in Tokyo, but that Olympic officials would encourage participants to get the jab.

Athletes risk being barred from the Olympics if they contract Covid-19, ruining years of training and sacrifice. BSS/AFP