Olympic athletes in Australia and France will be part of a higher priority group for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, the countries’ governments said Tuesday, part of a growing collection of nations that are trying to ensure athletes are inoculated by the Tokyo Olympics as the Summer Games are marred by public health concerns.
- Australian Olympians and Olympic support staff will be part of an earlier vaccine group that includes health care workers, senior citizens and Indigenous people over age 55, the government said Tuesday.
- Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll said the vaccinations would be coordinated through a private partner so as to not further strain the country’s public vaccination infrastructure.
- The sports ministry in France similarly told Reuters Tuesday that 1,400 Olympic athletes and managers will be eligible for early vaccinations, which will take place starting this week through the end of May—while most French adults ages 18-49 will otherwise have to wait until June for the shot.
- Other countries who have said they will be prioritizing athletes for vaccines include Belgium, Iran, Mexico, India, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hungary, Serbia, Lithuania, Israel, the Philippines and Denmark, and Great Britain said its athletes are expected to be inoculated before the games.
- Japan denied a report saying the government would prioritize athletes for the vaccine after the news sparked outrage among the broader Japanese public, and Ireland has also refused to let Olympians jump the line.
Olympic athletes will not be required to get vaccinated in order to participate in the games, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
1.04 billion. That’s how many Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide as of Tuesday, according to Bloomberg, though many of those doses have been disproportionately concentrated in wealthier countries. A number of countries face a shortage of vaccine supply and have faced a slow vaccine rollout—including bigger nations like Australia and Japan—making the decision to prioritize athletes more controversial.
The decision that some countries have made to inoculate Olympic athletes—who are typically lower-risk for Covid-19, given they’re younger and more likely to be in good health—ahead of other groups has drawn criticism, and the IOC has not endorsed the practice. “We will never ask for this and we don't want it, either,” Giovanni Malago, the head of Italy’s Olympic Committee, told La Repubblica, as translated by France 24. “An elderly person has a sacred right to be vaccinated before a 20-year-old athlete is.”
The Tokyo Olympics have been in a precarious position amid the coronavirus pandemic, as officials have publicly insisted the games will take place this summer after a year-long delay but have also indicated they have not completely ruled a cancellation out. A number of changes and public health protocols will be in place for the Olympics, including banning foreign spectators. Much of the Japanese public does not want the games to take place this summer amid the pandemic, however, and the impending event has become more fraught as the country faces a new surge of Covid-19 cases. Radio France Internationale reports a number of Japanese towns are pulling out of plans to host international Olympic athletes due to coronavirus concerns, and towns have moved their portions of the Olympic torch relay out of public view amid fears about spectators gathering.