Olympic athletes should get priority access to coronavirus vaccines, IOC's Dick Pound says

·3 min read

In order to safeguard the Tokyo Olympics, athletes must be given priority access to the coronavirus vaccine, says prominent International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound.

The longtime IOC official, who is Canadian, expressed confidence in the ability of the Olympics to proceed in July — when the delayed Summer Games are scheduled to begin — so long as athletes can jump to the front of the COVID-19 vaccine line.

"It's a decision for each country to make," Pound told Sky News on Wednesday. "And there will be people saying they are jumping the queue, but I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead.

"In Canada where we might have 300 or 400 hundred athletes — to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level — I don't think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that."

But with the Olympics less than 200 days away, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO and secretary general David Shoemaker told CBC News in a statement that Team Canada's access to vaccines will be dependent on a number of considerations including the laws governing entry to Japan next summer.

The statement also acknowledged that front-line workers and vulnerable individuals would be the priority when it came to vaccines.

"Developments regarding a vaccine are being closely monitored, as are the statements from the IOC and the Organizing Committee, but they do not change our current preparation for Tokyo 2020 because we cannot assume that vaccines will be widely available, how they will be distributed or when they will be available for Canadian athletes," the statement read.

"We will continue to safeguard the health and safety of our athletes, their families, and their communities on the road to Tokyo, and our actions will be guided by our Chief Medical Officer and Canadian public health officials, as we wait for the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the Japanese government to further communicate COVID-19 countermeasures and related requirements."

"There will come a time, hopefully in late spring/summer ahead of the Olympic Games when the athletes can be vaccinated. - Andy Anson, chief executive, British Olympic Association

Renewed concerns over the viability of holding the Olympics have risen in recent days as COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have reached record highs.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, however, has pledged to forge ahead, saying that holding the Games would be "proof that people have overcome the coronavirus."

Still, Suga is expected to decide on Thursday whether to implement a new state of emergency in Tokyo.

As organizers scramble to hold the Olympics amidst a global pandemic, the IOC is still wrestling with how to get 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes into Japan, let alone whether fans will even be able to attend.

Organizers have already announced that athletes will need to arrive on site five days prior to their competitions and must depart within 48 hours of their final event.

Pressure mounts

As pressure mounts, the IOC isn't the only group expressing interest in vaccines.

British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Anson also told Sky News that he too is having high-level government conversations about getting athletes and support staff access to vaccines.

But Anson admits, "they won't get priority access now because I think everyone — athletes included — would agree that the priority is the people who need it most; the front-line workers, the elderly, those with health issues and that's the first wave of vaccination.

"There will come a time, hopefully in late spring/summer ahead of the Olympic Games when the athletes can be vaccinated.

"But we'll do that when it's appropriate and when the government feels it's appropriate."

Several other sports leagues have said they will not jump the vaccine line, including the NHL, the NBA and the NFL.