Athletes representing Australia at the Tokyo Olympics and their support staff will be prioritised for vaccination ahead of the Games in July, with national cabinet agreeing to divert thousands of doses for the team.
About 2,050 Australian athletes and staff travelling to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympics will now be considered a priority group under 1b of the vaccine rollout, the federal government said on Tuesday.
Both Pfizer and AztraZeneca vaccines will be used to fully vaccinate the travelling delegation as some of the team members will be aged over 50.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) had been pushing the Morrison government to fast-track vaccines for athletes after repeated delays in the rollout meant the initial target to fully vaccinate all citizens by October was abandoned.
The AOC had also called for a “bespoke” quarantine regime for returning athletes – instead of the standard fortnight in hotel quarantine – but Tuesday’s announcement did not detail those arrangements.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said vaccines for athletes would act as a safety assurance for those preparing to represent Australia on the world stage.
“We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely,” Hunt said.
The sport minister, Richard Colbeck, sought to reassure Australians that vulnerable people would still be looked after.
“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.
“This will be a very different Olympics and Paralympics but our athletes deserve the opportunity to compete.”
The AOC chief executive, Matt Carroll, said the announcement provided “comfort and certainty” for athletes and officials travelling to Tokyo to represent their country.
“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 AOC will be working with our partners Aspen Medical on the logistics to ensure the vaccination of our athletes does not place any additional load on the public system.”
The rescheduled Tokyo Games are due to be held from 23 July to 8 August, despite Japan facing a fourth wave of the Covid pandemic.
Australia had administered about 2m doses of Covid vaccines as of Tuesday.
Phase 1b of the rollout includes people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, healthcare workers not covered in phase 1a and adults with underlying medical conditions.