Australian Olympic athletes to receive COVID vaccine before Tokyo games

Javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber, who has qualified for Australia's Olympic team. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber, who has qualified for Australia's Olympic team. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australian athletes headed to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will receive early access to COVID-19 vaccines before going to the Games.

The measure will see athletes and support staff on the Olympic team be included as part of priority group 1b in Australia's vaccine rollout.

The plan was agreed to following a meeting of the national cabinet.

It's estimated vaccines will be made available to 2050 people, who have been identified by the Australian Olympic Committee and Paralympics Australia.

The rollout to athletes will include both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine.

However, the AstraZeneca vaccine will only be offered to athletes and support staff who are over 50, in line with advice from Australia's vaccine advisory group.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the vaccines would provide an extra level of assurance for athletes and staff travelling to Tokyo for the Olympics, which will begin in late July.

"We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely," he said.

Sport Minister Richard Colbeck said the vaccines were an important step for Olympic athletes preparing for the Games.

We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely.

Greg Hunt

"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 he Tokyo Games draw closer," he said.

"This will be a very different Olympics and Paralympics, but our athletes deserve the opportunity to compete."

Chief executive of the Australian Olympic Committee Matt Carroll welcomed the decision.

"There will be hundreds of very grateful athletes, coaches and their families relieved to know that their hard work over five years has been worth it," he said.

"This added layer of assurance is what they were seeking."

The vaccine rollout among Olympic and Paralympic athletes, along with staff, will be carried out with the logistical help of Canberra-based Aspen Medical.

Mr Carroll said the vaccination program for those heading to Tokyo would not place extra pressure on the broader vaccine rollout.

"We understand the enormous effort being undertaken by our Japanese hosts and the IOC to provide an appropriate environment by Games time," he said.

"The AOC will continue our own exhaustive efforts to keep the team safe before, during and after the Games so our athletes can experience their Olympic moment and represent their country with pride."

Those heading to Tokyo will still be tested before leaving Australia, on arrival in Japan and throughout the Olympics.

Other countries, such as the US and New Zealand, have already started vaccinating their athletes.

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The announcement comes just days after Japanese officials declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, less than four months out from the Olympics.

Restrictions were placed on Tokyo and other Japanese prefectures in an attempt to stop a fourth wave of COVID cases hitting the country.

Talks had been under way between the Australian Olympic Committee and the federal government for some time on plans to vaccinate Australian athletes and officials heading to the Games.

The AOC said earlier this month the vaccination process for Australian athletes needed to begin in May at the latest. COVID protocols and safety measures will feature heavily when the Games begin later this year, with international visitors banned from attending the two-week event in Japan.

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This story Olympians to receive early access to COVID vaccine first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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