FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Canadian athletes, coaches applaud news of vaccine doses ahead of Tokyo

Canadian athletes, coaches applaud news of vaccine doses ahead of Tokyo

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.

“I was always confident Canadian athletes would be able to be vaccinated and not have to queue jump,” Wiebe said. “Hopeful to be fully vaccinated to relieved to have at least one dose in me prior to international travel.”

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 queue 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.”

It also makes sense to Canada’s rugby sevens co-captain Harry Jones.

“I think it’s great that they are trying to make the Olympic Games as safe as possible for the athletes and people living in Tokyo,” he said. ”At the end of the day I think it’s important to make sure the more vulnerable population are being cared for first and foremost and also ensuring that this plan doesn’t take away from that, which they addressed in their announcement.”

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.

— With files from The Associated Press

Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press

Olympics

Just Posted

The Sylvan Lake Gulls celebrate a sixth inning home run from Nolan Weger on Sunday during a game against the Edmonton Prospects. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Historic opening weekend for Sylvan Lake Gulls

It wasn’t perfect, but perhaps that was the beauty of it. Fans… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

Three Hills RCMP recovered stolen copper wire during recent investigation near Kneehill. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Fatal ATV rollover near Innisfail Saturday

A 77-year-old man from Red Deer County died Saturday after an ATV… Continue reading

Firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews on May 29. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters in central Alberta make birthdays special

A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.… Continue reading

A view of Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is shown in this undated handout photo. More Canadians are expected to leave their passports at home this summer and hit the road in Canada as the weak loonie and low gas prices prompt a deeper exploration of their own country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Travel Alberta *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Report: Alberta losing residents to other parts of Canada

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly winds down in Alberta, residents are continuing… Continue reading

A large number of supporters were out Saturday at a rally intended to bring awareness about including Hinduism in the grade 2 portion of the K-6 draft curriculum. As it stands now, Hinduism won’t be taught until grade 6 in the proposed draft curriculum. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Video: Rally to support adding Hinduism to draft curriculum draws crowd in Red Deer

The Hindu community in Red Deer came out in droves on Saturday… Continue reading

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Germany's Robin Gosens, left, celebrates Germany's Mats Hummels after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Portugal and Germany at the football arena stadium in Munich, Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Germany clicks at Euro 2020 with 4-2 win over Portugal

MUNICH (AP) — Germany finally clicked into gear at the European Championship,… Continue reading

Fans cheer on their team during the pre-game warmup of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal with the Montreal Canadiens facing the Vegas Golden Knights, in Montreal, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs Fever in Quebec as Montreal continues playoff run

MONTREAL — The sun hadn’t yet risen in Montreal on Friday morning… Continue reading

Coronavirus cases are on the rise from India to South Africa and Mexico, in a May 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Anti-government protesters took to the streets in… Continue reading

A black bear cub forages for food along a salmon stream below a bear viewing spot for tourists in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in Juneau, Alaska.  (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bandit responsible for vehicle break-ins is a black bear

THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — Surveillance video helped police get to the bottom… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 25, 2019 file photo, Editor Rick Hutzell, center, gives a speech to his staff including Chase Cook, Nicki Catterlin, Rachael Pacella, Selene San Felice and Danielle Ohl at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom, is leaving the Maryland newspaper. Hutzell, who worked at the Annapolis paper for more than three decades, authored a farewell column that was published on the paper's website Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Ulysses Muoz/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Editor of paper that endured newsroom shooting says goodbye

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won… Continue reading

Most Read