Controversy over Olympic athletes’ vaccination

A vaccine syringe with a drop on the needle’s end is seen in front of a computer screen showing the flag of the International Olympic Committee. Source: Ali Balıkçı – Anadolu Agency

The first to receive COVID-19 vaccines in every country are either the elderly or healthcare workers. However, another group who will get vaccinated before others in Hungary are professional athletes. This has stirred controversy – and not just in one country.

The Hungarian Olympic Committee already made a list of 868 people who might get qualified for the Olympic Games expected to take place this year in Tokyo. This also includes the possible candidates for next winter’s Beijing Games. They are the ones who will have priority in getting the vaccine.

“Getting the vaccine is very important for both layers of the society. For the elderly because they are threatened by the virus and for the professional athletes because they represent a country. The Hungarian government helps the sportsmen with this decision,” says professional sport shooter and European-champion Veronika Major who is currently preparing for the Olympics. “I didn’t get the vaccine yet but I already applied for it because I want to make sure that I can’t catch the virus and I also can’t spread it.” Major also said that the virus made the preparations difficult for her as one of her trainers lives in a different part of the country. Because she couldn’t travel, she had to practice through video chats.

The decision is already made in Hungary but not everyone agrees with it. Rector of the medical school Semmelweis University Béla Merkely thinks “it would not be ethical” to prioritise the athletes over the elderly. Great Britain also decided not to give their athletes vaccine priority, “citing it as morally wrong.”

However, former president and current member of the International Olympic Committee Pál Schmitt, who is also a two-time Olympic champion and former president of Hungary, said that the number of athletes who are expected to get the vaccine sooner is minimal compared to the hundreds of thousands of vaccines. Israel and Denmark also announced that they would like to vaccinate their athletes.

Whether the Paralympic athletes will get the vaccine sooner as well or are already included in the 868 people who will have priority in Hungary is unknown. But it seems that Great Britain thinks differently about them than it does about the Olympic athletes. “I have seen British Paralympians being vaccinated – because they are seen as vulnerable members of society,” said Craig Spence, the International Paralympic Committee’s spokesman.

So far it seems that the vaccine will not be mandatory at the Olympics, only encouraged, according to the International Olympic Committee’s President, Thomas Bach.

The Lens tried to reach the Hungarian State Secretariat for Sport and Youth Affairs for a comment regarding the controversy but was told by an employee that they are not allowed to give interviews.

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