Ireland’s athletes are set to be vaccinated against Covid-19 with donated vaccine doses, ahead of this summer’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The doses will be made directly available to athletes and their support teams by Pfizer and BioNTech SE, as part of an agreement between the pharmaceutical companies, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
The vaccinations will be supplementary to any existing delivery agreements between Pfizer and the European Union, through which Ireland is allocated doses.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the Olympic Federation of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland welcomed the move that will see the vaccination of their teams travelling to Tokyo, who number “in the low hundreds”.
“The development is extremely welcome given the very high levels of anxiety that a lack of vaccination was causing among the team,” they said.
“A positive diagnosis this close to the Games still has the potential to exclude athletes from competition. During Games time, 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 competition.
“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.”
Olympic Federation of Ireland President, Sarah Keane, thanked the IOC and IPC on behalf of Team Ireland for “this very significant breakthrough”.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
President of Paralympics Ireland, John Fulham, said: “Our sincere thanks goes out to Pfizer Biontech, the IOC and IPC for the work they have done to make this possible.”
“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.”
Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Thursday they would donate doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to help vaccinate athletes and their delegations participating in the Tokyo Games.
The companies said initial doses are expected to be delivered to participating delegations at the end of May with the goal of ensuring the delegations receive second doses ahead of arrivals in Tokyo.
The plan was put into effect after the IOC had a meeting with the Japanese government following Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla’s offer to donate vaccines to athletes and their delegations.
“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,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.
Japan is considering extending a coronavirus-spurred state of emergency in Tokyo and other major urban areas, sources said on Wednesday, fanning concerns about whether the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 23rd, could be held as planned.
The companies said the doses donated would be in addition to doses provided under supply agreements with countries worldwide and would not affect the existing agreements.