Ukraine starts vaccinating athletes ahead of Olympics

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Oleksandr Petriv, a member of the Ukrainian Olympic shooting team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, receives a dose of China's CoronaVac vaccine

Ukraine on Thursday launched a vaccination drive to innoculate its athletes against the coronavirus ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan.

A total of 30 athletes set to represent the ex-Soviet country in Tokyo received their first jab of China's CoronaVac vaccine in front of cameras at a hospital in the capital Kiev.

Daria Tykhova, a 35-year-old sports shooter, said her team was waiting for the vaccine impatiently, hoping to return to their pre-pandemic life.

"Now everything is resuming and I want to have some kind of protection," Tykhova told AFP.

When the Olympics were postponed in 2020 "it was a tragedy for athletes and coaches", shooting coach Volodymyr Ivanchuk said.

"A lot of work has been done and not put to use," the 55-year-old added.

Ukraine's sports ministry said it received 1,500 vaccines for athletes, who will be vaccinated on a voluntary basis.

"We want all athletes to come to these competitions without any restrictions, we want to see the Ukrainian flag, hear the Ukrainian anthem," Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said in a statement on Thursday.

Paralympians and Olympians "defend the image of Ukraine on the world sports arena", Stepanov added, "and our task is to preserve their health and life".

With 99 days until the Olympics, Japan will not require athletes to be vaccinated, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is encouraging vaccination and has secured the Chinese-made jab for athletes in countries without access.

Since the start of the pandemic Ukraine has recorded more than 1.9 million infections and more than 38,000 deaths.

Ukraine's vaccination campaign has struggled due to a lack of supplies, receiving only 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and 215,000 doses of China's CoronaVac jab for its population of 40 million.

The country's vaccination drive was launched at the end of February and 400,000 people have so far received a first dose.