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Vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech will donate doses of COVID vaccines to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday.
Delivery of doses is set to begin this month to give Olympic delegations time to be fully vaccinated with a second shot before arriving in Tokyo for the games, which open on July 23.
It is the second significant vaccination deal for the IOC. An agreement was announced in March between the IOC and Olympic officials in China to buy and distribute Chinese vaccines before the Tokyo Games and next year’s Beijing Winter Games.
The new Pfizer offer gives the IOC greater coverage worldwide ahead of Tokyo with most countries yet to authorise emergency use of Chinese vaccines.
Pfizer Chairman CEO Albert Bourla said the company was “proud to play a role” in helping vaccinate Olympic athletes and delegations.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The agreement was also welcomed by IOC President Thomas Bach, who has already seen the Tokyo Games postponed from last year because of the pandemic.
“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,” Bach said in a statement.
There are expected to be more than 11,000 athletes at the games.
The Pfizer donation followed talks between Pfizer’s Bourla and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
“Following this conversation, the Japanese government had a meeting with the IOC and now the donation plan has been realised,” Pfizer said.
The agreement with Pfizer is seen as important as Tokyo and several Japanese regions are once again under a state of alert due to the increase in cases of COVID-19, amid lingering doubts about the wisdom of holding the games.
Japan has recorded more than 622,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 10,500 deaths.
The IOC said any vaccination program must be done “in accordance with each country’s vaccination guidelines and consistent with local regulations”.
The IOC-China vaccine deal includes two doses being made available to the general public for each dose received by an Olympic participant in that country.