• REUTERS

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Australia is considering whether to prioritize athletes and support staff in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout with the Tokyo Olympics approaching.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has asked the government to allow athletes to jump the line as the country’s national vaccine program struggles with roadblocks.

“The government is in direct contact with the AOC over its proposal to priority vaccinate all Olympic team athletes and support staff,” sports minister Richard Colbeck told state broadcaster ABC.

Australia has restricted the rollout of its favored AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 over blood clotting concerns, which has caused the national vaccination program to slow down even further after the European Union blocked exports to the country.

Only 1.36 million vaccine doses were administered as of Wednesday, far fewer than the 4 million pledged by the end of March.

The opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics is scheduled for July 23, though with Japan set to expand quasi-emergency measures to 10 regions amid a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, doubts have been raised as to whether the games will go ahead.

Australian authorities have recommend people who receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine receive a booster after 12 weeks to maximize immunity.

For the Pfizer vaccine, which Australia is also employing, authorities recommend a booster after three weeks.

Swimming Australia Chief Executive Alex Baumann said on Thursday the country’s Olympic swimmers should prepare for a scenario where they miss out on vaccines.

Ian Chesterman, Australia’s Olympic chef de mission told Reuters in March the team did not want to “be jumping the queue” in the rollout.

An AOC spokesman said it was in the “best interests of our Australian athletes” to arrive in Tokyo safely and return safely.

“Vaccination is an important ingredient in that ambition,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Colbeck said the government’s focus was on its vaccine roadmap, which is currently in the initial phase of vaccinating healthcare and essential workers, adults over 70 and other vulnerable groups.

“Ensuring vulnerable Australians are vaccinated against COVID-19 first remains the priority for the Morrison government,” he said.

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