It was one additional layer of uncertainty for Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls but a move at international level from Pfizer Biontech means that athletes heading for Tokyo will now have the right to be vaccinated against Covid 19.
Vaccinations for accredited Irish Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support teams expecting to travel to Tokyo, which will number in the low hundreds, will be made available directly by the manufacturer outside of existing delivery agreements between Pfizer and the Irish Government.
The offer was made to the International Olympic Committee which has now passed that on to each of the countries where the Pfizer Biontech vaccine has been approved.
Discussions took place yesterday with Government officials here. The batch of vaccines will be entirely outside of the supply coming into Ireland for administration to the general population
The IOC had reached a similar agreement with Chinese manufacturers had been reached but that vaccine has yet to be approved in the European Union so was not deemed to be realistic for Irish athletes.
The IOC has stopped short of saying that vaccination will be required but this is expected to significantly raise the number of athletes who will be, and also serve to calm fears around the games being expressed locally in Japan where infections are still rising, albeit from a lower base, and a number of states of emergency remain in place.
A positive diagnosis in advance or at the Games still has the potential to exclude athletes from competition, but the vaccination will be of crucial importance in providing protection for the team, and minimising, although not removing entirely, the risk of contagion and elimination from the Games.
The news also alleviates the major duty of care dilemma that was being faced as a result of sending a team representing the country, into a known area of COVID 19 infection, particularly when many other teams, and the majority of those athletes expected in the Olympic village, were expecting to be vaccinated through their own National agreements.
The temperature around the issue was rising with rumours of countries sending whole teams to Russia to be vaccinated there if the supply and approval in their own country were not sufficient.
“I would like to thank the IOC and IPC on behalf of Team Ireland for this very significant breakthrough,” said Olympic Federation of Ireland President Sarah Keane.
“It provides the athletes and support staff who work so hard to represent us internationally with the appropriate level of care in advance of the Games.”
“Over recent months we have been very conscious of the wider issues around us in society and were working intensely to advocate for vaccination of the team at the appropriate time when those most vulnerable in society had come first.”
“This breakthrough is a major relief for all of us given the significant challenges that we were facing and the lack of time remaining to find a resolution. I take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to Pfizer BionTech, the IOC and the IPC for helping to make this possible with the support of the Irish Government.”
“Today’s announcement from the IOC in relation to vaccinations for the Paralympic and Olympic Teams travelling to Tokyo is very welcome and our sincere thanks goes out to Pfizer Biontech, the IOC and IPC for the work they have done to make this possible,” added John Fulham, President of Paralympics Ireland.
“To be able to provide the necessary level of care for our athletes and staff, as they seek to perform at the highest level, has been our primary concern. We have been working tirelessly in seeking the best solutions, conscious of the broader societal pressures at this time, ensuring those most vulnerable took priority.”
“This donation of the vaccine is another tool in our toolbox of measures to help make the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 safe and secure for all participants, and to show solidarity with our gracious Japanese hosts,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.
“We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible. By taking the vaccine, they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration of the wellbeing of others in their communities.”
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