Vaccinations worries as Team Ireland head for Tokyo

O’Donovan happy that to date over 90 per cent of travelling party have been vaccinated

Dr Jim O’Donovan: “Up until the point where we were able to access vaccines, I would have been very hesitant about travelling with the team.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Dr Jim O’Donovan: “Up until the point where we were able to access vaccines, I would have been very hesitant about travelling with the team.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

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Dr Jim O’Donovan, the chief medical officer with Team Ireland, would have been “very hesitant” about travelling to the Tokyo Olympics had the athlete vaccination programme not been rolled out early last month.

While at this point over 90 per cent of Team Ireland has been vaccinated – that team set to include 107 athletes, across 19 different sports, plus about another 100 team support, medical and coaching positions – it appears some have either declined or missed out for logistical reasons.

“For me, it’s great to be involved in any Olympic Games, but these Olympics have created unbelievable challenges from a medical point of view,” said Dr O’Donovan, the former Limerick footballer who previously worked with Munster and Leinster rugby, as well as at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“I would think that up until the point where we were able to access vaccines, I would have been very hesitant about travelling with the team. But we were able to secure those, thankfully with the agreement with the IOC, and obviously in getting those out to everybody.

“Now we’ve pretty much got a fully vaccinated team travelling over, which gives me a lot of reassurance, and that’s for the potential effects on serious illness, which Covid can have. Obviously athletes are younger and healthier and there are less risk factors, and they’re less likely to get ill, but we do have staff travelling as well.

“At present with the protocols in place, and the Playbook that’s supplied by Tokyo, the third updated Playbook, and each one has more information, and more reassurance the protocols would be in place to ensure a safe Games. And the fact we’ve a vaccinated team going as well gives me great comfort.”

Team Ireland

We profile every Olympic athlete who will represent Ireland in Tokyo FULL LIST

With just over two weeks before the opening ceremony on July 23rd, and some Team Ireland members already in Japan, even with vaccination Dr O’Donovan isn’t taking any chances.

“I’m not too sure of the full percentage, but we’re definitely over 90 per cent full vaccination. The challenge was the logistics, because we got access to the vaccines quite late, and were in the middle of the qualifying time when people weren’t in Ireland,” he said..

“Apart from that there was very little resistance, one or two. And we also did a kind of vaccination education programme, so there were fully aware of the recommendations of when they could train after, the potential side effects they may encounter. So maybe there were one or two I spoke to individually, just to allay any fears.

“I don’t have the full figure, we could be hitting 95 per cent, hopefully 100 per cent, and we have had a remarkable take up compared to other countries, some of my colleagues in North America, where there is quite a high level of hesitancy for political reasons, etc.

“But every Irish athlete travelling will be offered the vaccine, I’m sure not sure, for personal reasons, if every athlete will have taken it. But we’re very close to over 90 per cent.”

Positive test

Even with that high vaccine uptake, there is still a risk of contacting Covid, especially given the length of journey to Japan: Team Ireland were also advising back in March that an athlete might need a 30-day period of recovery to get back to full peak fitness should the return a positive test.

“Thankfully levels are quite low at the moment in the Republic, maybe a bit higher in the UK and the North, so we haven’t had to deal with that at this point. For sure, if someone was to get Covid this close to the Games, it could significantly impact their ability to compete, based on their PCR status, because we know you can remain PCR positive for a length of time outside your infectious period, which would be 10 days post-contracting the disease, and then also the knock-on effect on performance, which is unknown and very variable.

“The real risk begins now as they set to out for Japan: We describe them as pinch points along the journey from here to the Games, and on return. From 14 days pre-travel their health status is being monitored, this is a Tokyo organising committee requirement.

“Going through an eight-hour flight in an enclosed space is obviously the highest risk event for the event, so coming off the flight they are immediately tested at the airport, then in a quasi-quarantine state for about three days after, where they have to limit their contact with other people. Then there’s the village, transport, and room sharing as well, It’s unavoidable unfortunately that we will have athletes sharing rooms.”

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