Athletes and supervisors at the FINA Diving World Cup in Tokyo earlier this week. DPA/PA Images
tokyo games

Pfizer/BioNTech to directly provide vaccines for all Olympic athletes and support staff

The arrangement will be supplementary to any existing delivery agreements between Pfizer and the Irish government.

LAST UPDATE | 6 May 2021

US DRUGS GIANT Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Thursday announced a deal with the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to provide vaccines to competitors and staff at the Tokyo games.

It means that vaccinations for the accredited Irish Olympic and Paralympic athletes as well as their support teams expecting to travel to Tokyo, which numbers in the low hundreds, will be made available directly by Pfizer/BioNTech.

This arrangement will be supplementary to any existing delivery agreements between Pfizer/BioNTech and the Irish government.

In a statement, the pharmaceutical firms said they would coordinate with national sporting bodies to make sure that coronavirus vaccines are available to anyone who needs one before travelling to Japan.

“Delivery of initial doses to participating delegations is expected to begin at the end of May where possible with the aim to ensure participating delegations receive second doses ahead of arrivals in Tokyo,” they said.

Olympic Federation of Ireland president Sarah Keane said of the development: “I would like to thank the IOC and IPC on behalf of Team Ireland for this very significant breakthrough. 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.”

President of Paralympics Ireland, John Fulham added: “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.

“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.

“We look forward to working with our athletes, support staff, Olympic colleagues, while being supported by our government so our teams can travel to Tokyo and be in the best and safest position to perform on the world stage. That is something for Ireland to look forward to.”

In an earlier statement, IOC President Thomas 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.”

Several participating countries, including Australia and Iran, have taken their own steps to inoculate their Olympic athletes. Paralympics chief Andrew Parsons said last week that around 60% of Paralympians have been vaccinated.

There are expected to be more than 11,000 athletes at the games, which will run from July 23 to August 8, but many have already secured vaccines in their home countries.

The IOC has been promising for months that the Olympics would be safe even without widespread vaccination, thanks to a battery of health precautions.

The IOC has already said it will offer national delegations Covid-19 vaccines bought from China.

But the agreement with Pfizer is seen as important as Tokyo and several Japanese regions are once again under a state of alert due to the increase in cases of Covid-19, amid lingering doubts about the wisdom of holding the games.

Japan has already decided to ban spectators from abroad and the president of the organising committee, Seiko Hashimoto, told AFP last Friday that the Olympics could be held behind closed doors for the first time in their history.

With Japan’s hospital system already under intense pressure, Tokyo 2020 has been criticised for asking Japanese medical staff to work on the event, and Hashimoto said the absence of spectators could ease the pressure.

In an attempt to appease the scepticism of the Japanese public, organisers last week tightened the anti-virus measures imposed on both Olympic delegations and the media.

Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer and Ugur Sahin or BioNTech said their firms were proud to supply the vaccine — already the mainstay of Europe’s inoculation effort — to the Games.

“The return of the Olympic and Paralympic Games represents a monumental moment of world unity and peace after a gruelling year of isolation and devastation,” Bourla said.

The firms noted that it would be a decision of individual countries’ government whether to permit or require the vaccines be used, but added that the jab has been authorised by the EU, US, UK, Canada and other countries.

- Updated with statement from Olympic Federation of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland.

© – AFP, 2021

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