Time is running out as the Australian Olympic Committee awaits indications of when its group of 1,400 travelers to the Tokyo Games will receive the Covid-19 vaccine, with Swimming Australia acknowledging it must “prepare for the worst”.
Australia is expected to send around 450 to 480 athletes to the 2021 Olympics, with nearly 1,000 support staff and officials likely to travel to Japan as well.
Australia has limited the deployment of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under the age of 50 due to problems with blood clotting, further slowing the national vaccination program after the European Union blocked exports to the country.
The slow rollout has raised concerns that Australian athletes could run out of vaccines, even as rival nations rush with vaccinations for their Olympians ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Games on July 23.
Some members of the Olympic contingent have already been vaccinated against Covid-19 due to their employment, but the vast majority have not yet received it.
The problem is compounded by the fact that many athletes aim to compete around the world in key warm-up events before heading to Japan for the Olympics.
The AOC has repeatedly indicated that it does not want to skip the queue, but may now be forced to.
“We are in discussion with the minister [Greg] Hunt’s office on a weekly basis, ”said AOC CEO Matt Carroll. “We weren’t expecting athletes or officials to be vaccinated yet, so we’re not frustrated. The critical moment begins to strike next month, as athletes will start to go abroad. The government is well aware of this.
“I could have some clarity [on Thursday]. Governments – federal and state – have a lot to do right now… we are working with the government on how their programs will be implemented, where they will rank athletes and officials. We are quite confident.
Carroll added that the Games were “designed to take place without vaccination, vaccination is a bonus.”
Speaking at the National Swimming Championships on the Gold Coast on Thursday, the new Managing Director of Swimming Australia, Alex Baumann, said
“We have to prepare for the worst. We need to be prepared so that athletes are not vaccinated, ”Swimming Australia’s new managing director, Alex Baumann, said on Thursday.
“But it’s really a choice for the athletes. We are not going to make it mandatory. Obviously, it would be better to have the athletes vaccinated. We will encourage that.
The United States is headlining the list of countries wanting to vaccinate their entire Olympic team ahead of the Games, while Carroll revealed that Australia is working with Pacific Island countries to try to ensure their Olympians are also vaccinated.
Baumann and SA chairman Kieren Perkins said no swimmers approached them to worry about vaccinations or the tight deadline to get them before Tokyo.
Perkins said he would not want to influence athletes on their decision to have vaccines if they became available, but said he would happily take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“As an Australian citizen under 50, I have seen the statistics and have no problem taking the AstraZeneca vaccine myself,” said the 47-year-old Olympic champion. “As soon as I can, I’ll line up at the door and come in and get her.”
Besides the obvious benefits, the vaccines would take some stress out for Olympians trying to perform at their highest level in single Games.
“I would really like the vaccine, it will make me feel safer and more comfortable,” paddler Jess Fox, one of Australia’s biggest medals at the Games, told AAP.
“Especially if I have to go to Europe for competitions in June. Whether we have it or not, we will continue to be extremely careful and follow protocols. The important thing is not to have Covid, because otherwise you cannot compete. “
Olympians risk being excluded from competition if they contract Covid-19, when even being in close contact with a confirmed case could ruin five years of hard work.
“Introverts will be the winners here. We’re going to be spending a lot of time in our rooms, so it will be important to be able to distract and disconnect in your room, ”Fox said.
New Zealand began administering vaccines to its more than 200 athletes on Wednesday, New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said.
“We’re really happy that the government was able to put us in this category of national significance, so it’s now underway and the athletes have been looked at based on when they might leave,” Smith said.
The New Zealand government said last month it would allow athletes to skip the line in the vaccine rollout around the country to allow them to participate in events of “national significance.”