The British Olympic Association has been handed a boost in its bid to vaccinate all its athletes and support staff prior to the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in less than 12 weeks’ time.
Under a deal struck between the International Olympic Committee and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, vaccines will be made available to athletes in nations not in a position to prioritise jabs for those heading to the Japanese capital.
Following moves by the respective governments of Italy and South Korea last week, Britain found itself in the position of being the only one of the top 10 medal-winning nations from Rio 2016, besides Japan, not to guarantee its athletes priority doses.
The BOA had resisted emulating a number of other national Olympic committees in lobbying for vaccine priority, in the hope that the natural roll-out of vaccines nationwide – or a government change of heart – would solve the issue.
BOA chairman Sir Hugh Robertson said last week: “The speed and success of the rollout is our greatest ally. It remains our ambition to get our Olympians and Paralympians fully vaccinated before Tokyo and we’re working very closely with Government to bring that about.”
IOC president Thomas Bach said on Thursday that a memorandum of understanding signed with Pfizer means the company would donate enough vaccines to cover a significant number of athletes in Tokyo, although the exact number of available vaccines is not clear.
Bach said: “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.
“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.”
A BOA spokesperson said: “Given the success of the domestic rollout our ambition remains to get all Olympians fully vaccinated before Tokyo and we’re working closely with Government to bring this about.
“The news of Pfizer and BioN Tech’s donation of vaccines is welcome, and we will fully explore all options out of respect to our hosts in Japan, and for clear health and performance reasons.”
Olympic Federation of Ireland president Sarah Keane said she believed the new deal ensured the whole of the Irish team heading to Tokyo will be able to access vaccines.
Keane said: “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.”