Aussie Olympic athletes to jump vaccine queue ahead of Tokyo

Australian athletes (pictured) posing in the Australian jersey for the Olympics.
Australian athletes (pictured) heading to Tokyo for the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be granted priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine. (Getty Images)

Australian Olympic athletes will be granted priority for Covid-19 vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games in July and August.

The national cabinet agreed on Tuesday up to 2,050 nominated athletes and officials heading to Tokyo will jump the queue and get the vaccination.

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Only last week, Japan's government declared a virus state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions, exactly three months before the Olympic opening ceremony, as new infections surge.

The measures will be stricter than Japan's last state of emergency, imposed in parts of the country from January, but still fall short of the harsh lockdowns seen in some parts of the world.

Japan has seen a comparatively small Covid-19 outbreak, with fewer than 10,000 deaths despite never imposing the strict lockdowns seen in other countries.

But cases surged over winter and have rebounded after the previous state of emergency was lifted in March.

AOC president praises cabinet vaccine decision

The chief of the Australia Olympic Committee (AOC), Matt Carroll, praised the cabinet's decision and said it would put many of the athletes at ease.

"There will be hundreds of very grateful athletes, coaches and their families relieved to know that their hard work over five years has been worth it," he said in a statement.

"This added layer of assurance is what they were seeking."

The health minister added it was important the Olympic and Paralympic athletes were safe abroad.

"We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely," Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday.

Muto Toshiro, CEO of Tokyo 2020, attends a press conference after a Tokyo 2020 executive board meeting in Tokyo on April 26, 2021.
Muto Toshiro, CEO of Tokyo 2020, attends a press conference after a Tokyo 2020 executive board meeting in Tokyo on April 26, 2021. (Photo by Nicolas Datiche / POOL / AFP)

Most athletes would have fallen under category 2b of the national vaccine rollout, which would make the eligible for the vaccine later in 2021.

But the national cabinet's decision on Tuesday has fast tracked them to the current rollout.

Either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine will be available, based on their age.

Sport Minister Richard Colbeck said the athletes deserve the opportunity to compete knowing they are vaccinated.

"While vulnerable Australians remain an absolute priority as the vaccine rollout continues, National Cabinet understands the pressure our high-performance athletes have been facing as the Tokyo Games draw closer," he said in a statement.

"This will be a very different Olympics and Paralympics, but our athletes deserve the opportunity to compete."

Watch 'Mind Games', the new series from Yahoo Sport Australia exploring the often brutal mental toil elite athletes go through in pursuit of greatness: