(Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee is not in favour of athletes “jumping the queue” for COVID-19 vaccines, President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday, after some National Olympic Committees (NOCs) revealed plans to inoculate athletes before the Tokyo Games.
Bach added that it was up to NOCs to coordinate with their respective governments over athlete access to vaccines.
Israel’s Olympic Committee told Reuters earlier on Wednesday that it had already inoculated half its Olympic delegation and would complete the process by the end of May.
The country currently leads the world on per capita vaccinations, having inoculated about 30% of its population of 9 million with at least one dose.
“We always made it clear we are not in favour of athletes jumping the queue,” Bach said at a virtual news conference after the IOC’s first executive board meeting of the year.
“In the first lines must be the high-risk groups, the healthcare workers and the people who keep our society alive. That is the first priority and this is a principle we have established.
“The reality is that it’s up to each government to decide about vaccination and access to vaccination. That’s why we’ve asked NOCs to get in touch with their respective government.”
Hungary’s NOC plans to begin vaccinating Olympic athletes in “a few weeks”, while Denmark’s chef de mission hopes the country’s contingent of about 150 athletes and 200 officials will be fully inoculated by July 1.
Coronavirus cases surpassed 100 million globally on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, as countries around the world struggle with new virus variants and vaccine shortfalls.
Much of Japan is under a state of emergency due to a third wave of infections, but Bach reaffirmed the IOC’s commitment to the Games, which are due to open on July 23 after being postponed for a year because of the pandemic.
Some countries, such as Greece and Belgium, are awaiting government permission to proceed with vaccinations for athletes.
The Belgian Olympic Committee has asked for “400 to 500” vaccines for its Olympic delegation, while Greece’s Olympic Committee president, Spyros Capralos, has asked the government to prioritise athletes after medical staff and the elderly.
“(We) will continue to put pressure on the Greek government in order to have all the athletes vaccinated,” a spokesman told Reuters in an email.
WAITING IN LINE
Several countries are hesitant to prioritise athletes over those more in need of the vaccine.
Germany’s NOC said they would “wait in line” and not interfere with the national vaccination plan, while the British Olympic Association said the priority is “the vulnerable, elderly and front line workers”.
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has not issued an official policy, but its medical chief said U.S. athletes would not be jumping any queues to get a shot, though the USOPC might consider buying vaccines when they are available to the general public.
Bach has said previously that vaccinations will not be made mandatory for athletes and staff at the Games.
Reporting by Rohith Nair, Arvind Sriram and Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Mark Gleeson; Editing by John Stonestreet, Alex Richardson, Pritha Sarkar, Christian Radnedge and Steve Orlofsky