The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees say they’re happy to learn that Pfizer and BioNTech will donate vaccine doses around the world to participants in the fast-approaching Tokyo Games.
The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that the vaccine makers will donate doses to national Olympic and Paralympic delegations, who will work with their local governments to distribute them to athletes, officials and stakeholders before they leave for Japan.
“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,” David Shoemaker, the Canadian Olympic Committee’s CEO and secretary general, said in an e-mail statement.
“We thank the IOC, Pfizer and BioNTech for their support, and look forward to working with them, and relevant government agencies, to confirm details of the rollout in Canada.”
It follows a flurry of debate in recent months about whether athletes should be prioritized for vaccination ahead of other citizens as the Tokyo Games near. Governments in many countries said they would prioritize athletes, but Canada’s did not.
“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,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement. “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.”
The Canadian Paralympic Committee echoed the COC in its gratitude. It was assured the doses would not subtract from Canada’s existing vaccination programs.
“Canada has already taken positive steps in delivering vaccines across the country, including for persons with a disability and those who are immunocompromised,” said Karen O’Neill, CEO of the CPC. “This announcement will help to ensure the safety of all of our Paralympic athletes.”
According to the IOC’s news release, Thursday’s decision was a result of a conversation between Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and Suga Yoshihide, the Prime Minster of host country Japan. The Japanese government then met with the IOC.
It’s an attempt by Games organizers to boost the prospects of a massive global sporting event whose status remains uncertain with less than three months to go. The IOC and the International Paralympic Committee have encouraged vaccinations but had not made them mandatory for participation.
The IOC stressed that these doses delivered by Pfizer and BioNTech will be in addition to existing quotas and planned deliveries around the world.
“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. “We are proud to play a role in providing vaccines to athletes and their national Olympic delegations where possible.”
Approximately 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes are expected to compete in Tokyo. The Olympics open July 23, and the Paralympics begin Aug. 24.
IPC president Andrew Parsons said that before this announcement, they had estimated that around 60 per cent of national Paralympic delegations would be vaccinated in time for the Games. So this could represent a big boost.
“Thanks to this wonderful donation from Pfizer and BioNTech, we will now work with athletes and Games participants all around the world and invite them to take vaccines where and when possible.”