The Tokyo Olympics are set to open in just over three months. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Tokyo Olympics are set to open in just over three months. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Canadian athletes, coaches to get COVID-19 vaccine doses donated ahead of Tokyo

Pfizer and BioNTech are donating COVID-19 doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Olympics

Canadian athletes and officials applauded Thursday’s news that Pfizer and BioNTech are donating COVID-19 doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Games.

The Olympics and Paralympics are happening, they said. They’ll be far safer for everyone if participants are vaccinated.

“Before the vaccine roll-out, I was quite worried from a global standpoint, the Olympics are bringing in thousands and thousands of people, and it looked like it was going to be a COVID petri dish,” said Erica Gavel, a member of Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team. ”Now it looks like things are moving in the right direction, to say the least.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee said it believes it will have access to donated vaccine doses from Pfizer and BioNTech as part of an IOC initiative. Delivery of doses is set to begin this month to give Olympic delegations time to be fully vaccinated with a second shot before arriving in Tokyo for the Games, which open on July 23.

David Shoemaker, CEO and secretary-general of the COC, says his organization will work with government agencies to confirm details of the roll-out.

“We were happy to learn from the IOC that Pfizer and BioNTech will donate vaccine doses for Tokyo 2020 Games participants. In Canada this represents approximately 1,100 people and will add an important layer of protection for Canadian athletes in the lead up to and during the Games,” Shoemaker said in a statement.

“The Olympic Games hold special meaning for the millions of Canadians who will be inspired by the resilience and determination of Canadian athletes this summer in Tokyo. As most provinces begin vaccination of the general population, this announcement will help more Canadians receive vaccinations quicker.”

The COC had steadfastly said Canadian athletes wouldn’t jump the vaccine cue.

“It’s fantastic news,” said Athletics Canada’s CEO David Bedford. ”Athletes are so thrilled to put Canada on their chest and represent all of us, that we owe them an obligation to try and keep them safe.”

It’s unknown how many Canadian athletes would benefit from this initiative. The COC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Mike Wilkinson, told The Canadian Press last week that with the pace of Canada’s vaccine roll-out, he expected the entire team to have received at least the first vaccine dose before Tokyo. Alberta, for example, is booking vaccines for people aged 12 and up starting Monday.

Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe tweeted a photo Thursday of her first dose appointment secured — independent of the IOC’s program. Other athletes have been able to access first doses elsewhere in Canada, while numerous Canadian athletes and coaches have been vaccinated while competing or training in the U.S.

Canada’s men’s field hockey captain Scott Tupper, who received his jab through work — he’s an assistant coach at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn. — said Thursday’s news was “great to hear.

“I think that anyone who believes in the Olympic Games and wants to see a successful event take place, agrees that vaccine access for competing athletes — Canadian and otherwise — is a positive step towards all nations coming together this summer in the safest way possible,” he said.

The IOC has said athletes do not have to be vaccinated for the Games. As of Thursday, 3.1 per cent of the Canadian population had been fully vaccinated.

The prospect of athletes jumping the cue is a hot-button topic in Canada, particularly while a third wave is ravaging parts of the country. The response on social media Thursday was overwhelmingly negative, with tweets about “privileged athletes” and “misplaced priorities.”

Race walker Evan Dunfee said it’s unfair to attack athletes, “like we had anything to do with this.”

“If people want to be mad they should be mad at the IOC and these mega-medical corporations. And no-one is getting outraged that the U.S. is vaccinating all their healthy people while people in India die,” said Dunfee, a world bronze medallist.

“It’s not the best use of global supplies of vaccine. But the Olympics going ahead isn’t smart either. At the end of the day, that the athletes are being held responsible in the eyes of some in the public, is incredibly disheartening to me.”

Bedford pointed out the Olympic vaccines would be incremental to what the pharmaceutical companies are delivering to countries.

“Anybody who says they should donate them to India or teachers, I get it, I would not argue with that. I understand, it’s very personal. But I also believe that these athletes and the support staff is protected. And fortunately, the good news is that Pfizer and BioNTech have said this isn’t coming out of any allocations to countries.”

Swimming Canada’s high-performance director and national coach John Atkinson said he welcomed the news.

“Let’s leave nothing to chance,” he said. “Having a fully vaccinated team, along with all the well thought out protocols from the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee, makes complete sense to me.”

Anti-Games sentiments, meanwhile, have been gaining ground in Japan, where just under two per cent of the population has been vaccinated. Almost 80 per cent of Japanese citizens in polls say they want the Olympics cancelled or postponed, and a petition titled “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives” has quickly gained tens of thousands of signatures.

Paralympic sprinter Marissa Papaconstantinou said vaccinating athletes benefits not only the Canadian team and their respective communities they’d be returning home to after the Games, but countries that don’t have the same access to vaccines, and the people of Japan, who will play host to some 15,000 athletes from more than 200 countries.

“You have an Olympic village with thousands of people living in like close quarters, it could be a recipe for disaster if a large chunk of people weren’t vaccinated,” said Papaconstantinou, who is doing a required quarantine in Toronto after returning home from San Diego.

“These Games are happening regardless of if everyone’s vaccinated or not.”

She pointed out the Japanese are already reeling in the economic fallout of hosting a postponed Games without the level of tourism they would have benefited from.

“At least they won’t have to worry about also dealing with COVID outbreaks, hopefully,” she said.

It’s the second major vaccination deal for the International Olympic Committee. An agreement was announced in March between the IOC and Olympic officials in China to buy and distribute Chinese vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Games and next year’s Beijing Winter Games.

The new Pfizer offer gives the IOC greater coverage worldwide ahead of Tokyo with most countries — including Canada — yet to authorize emergency use of Chinese vaccines.

“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,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement.

The Pfizer donation followed talks between the firm’s chairman and CEO, Albert Bourla, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The IOC said any vaccination program must be done “in accordance with each country’s vaccination guidelines and consistent with local regulations.”

The IOC-China vaccine deal includes two doses being made available to the general public for each dose received by an Olympic participant in that country.

The Spanish Olympic Committee said Thursday the nearly 600 members of its delegation travelling to Japan will start being vaccinated with Pfizer doses this month. Other countries, including Australia, South Korea and Italy, have also been making arrangements to vaccinate their teams.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The District of Saanich has pinpointed funding requests to Oak Bay and Victoria to help offset the purchase price of the Kings Park greenspace and keep the property intact. (Courtesy District of Saanich)
Saanich requests funding help from neighbours to preserve Kings Road green space

District hopes Victoria and Oak Bay will join them in protecting urban green space

North Saanich council Monday will consider the results of a survey conducted by the North Saanich Residents Association that finds little support for increased densification. (Black Press Media File)
Survey finds little support for increased density in North Saanich

North Saanich Residents Association conducted the online survey

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stood at 6.3 per cent in May 2021, nearly unchanged from April’s rate of 6.2 per cent. (Black Press Media File)
Unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stagnates at 6.3 per cent in May

Latest figures reflect conditions before lifting of public health measures

Thriving Toots Wilderness School is trying to buy a 98-acre plot of undeveloped land from the Boys and Girls’ Club of Greater Victoria in Metchosin. (Contributed/Thriving Roots)
Hopeful buyers of Boys and Girls’ Club land in Metchosin would keep it wild

Nature-based school, partners trying to secure financing to buy 98-acre property: school director

Victoria police are looking for Delmer Esau who was last seen in Esquimalt June 1. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Search continues for man last seen in Esquimalt

Delmer Esau, 35, hasn’t been seen since June 1

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Most Read