Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden taking 'wait and see' approach to vaccines before Games

·4 min read
Canadian Brent Hayden, seen above, will weigh his options as far as receiving a vaccination if he qualifies for the Tokyo Games this summer.  (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images - image credit)
Canadian Brent Hayden, seen above, will weigh his options as far as receiving a vaccination if he qualifies for the Tokyo Games this summer. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images - image credit)

If he qualifies for this summer's Olympic Games, Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before arriving in Tokyo.

That doesn't mean he wouldn't go without getting his jab. He also isn't sure if he would use the vaccine being offered to Olympic athletes as part of a recent partnership announced by the International Olympic Committee and China.

"I think that would be something I have to talk to my coach about, to figure out what we think is going to be the best decision," said Hayden, who won a bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics.

"I do want to be vaccinated, I want to be covered at the Olympics. I don't want to catch it and spread it. Now whether or not that's the China one ... I'm just going to have to wait to see what my coach or what Swimming Canada recommends."

In the recently announced agreement, the IOC entered into a partnership with the Chinese Olympic committee to buy and provide vaccines for people participating in the Tokyo Games and next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing.

None of the Chinese vaccines are approved for use in Canada.

In a statement, the Canadian Olympic Committee said it would prefer Canadian athletes use Health Canada approved vaccines.

"Our strong preference is that any vaccine a Canadian athlete receives has been approved by Health Canada," COC boss David Shoemaker said in a statement.

"The COC will continue to follow Health Canada guidelines and the recommendations of our chief medical officer and the return to sport task force for all matters relating to the health and safety of Team Canada."

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A Swimming Canada spokesman said they are encouraging athletes to follow the COC guidelines.

At least one Olympic expert said he isn't surprised the by the IOC's decision to buy vaccines or that they are being purchased from China.

Michael Naraine, an assistant professor with Brock University's department of sport, said IOC president Thomas Bach has pushed for the Tokyo Games to go ahead, even though concerns remain about COVID-19.

"They weren't going to force athletes to take the vaccine, but they wanted to do everything they could to ensure health and safety," said Naraine, who studies major games and the Olympic movement.

"It's not surprising that China would be the place where they were able to procure them. The supply chains are really tight now when you're thinking about all the different countries that are trying to procure. When you think about scale in the supply chain, China's clearly the top dog."

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The IOC is also "very bullish on China" considering it's hosting next year's Winter Games and some of the major sponsors that comes with that, he said.

While athletes in some countries may be hesitant over the IOC's offer, for others it might be their best chance to access the vaccine.

"If I'm an athlete in a country which has a very heavy strain on health care and the public health system, you're looking at this as jumping the global queue as far as vaccination and inoculation is concerned," said Naraine.

Wrestler Erica Weibe, a gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Games, supports more athletes having access to the vaccine.

It would be great if the IOC's partnership "can help athletes and citizens of countries with less robust vaccination plans than Canada," the Stittsville, Ont., native told The Canadian Press last week.

According to Naraine, some athletes might also be more willing to accept the IOC's offer if the vaccine was not produced in China.

"There is a prevailing stigma here in North American about two or three countries," said Naraine. "It's going to result in many athletes, as well as the general public, being inclined to think that because it's coming from China, it's naturally worse off than if it were coming from anywhere else."

If the vaccine were manufactured in North America or Europe "inoculation rates would be through the roof at the Games," said Naraine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that every Canadian adult who wants a vaccine will be able to receive a shot by the end of September.

In B.C., where Hayden lives, his age group is scheduled to receive their first round of the vaccine in May or June.

The Tokyo Games, which have been delayed a year due to COVID-19, are scheduled to open July 23.

Hayden, who retired after the London Games but decided to make a comeback for Tokyo, said not being vaccinated won't stop him from competing.

"My goal is to go to the Olympics," he said. "If I'm vaccinated or not vaccinated, I'm planning on going until they tell me I can't go."