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COC focused on Canadian-approved vaccines after IOC announces deal with China

The Canadian Olympic Committee says its "strong preference" is for athletes competing in the Tokyo Games this summer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada.

The Canadian Olympic Committee says its "strong preference" is for athletes competing in the Tokyo Games this summer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada.

David Shoemaker, CEO and secretary general of the COC, delivered his thoughts in a statement after the International Olympic Committee and China announced details of a vaccine partnership on Thursday.

The deal will have the Chinese Olympic Committee buying and providing vaccines for people taking part in the upcoming Games in both Tokyo and Beijing.

However, none of the Chinese vaccines are approved for use in Canada.

Shoemaker says the COC "will continue to follow Health Canada guidelines and the recommendations of our chief medical officer and the return to sport task force for all matters relating to the health and safety of Team Canada."

Vaccines are not mandatory for athletes to compete in the Tokyo Games.

Federal officials said Wednesday that Canada is expected to have received one dose for each Canadian by the end of June. The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23.

The partnership comes as criticism of China continues ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Meanwhile, a pair of Canadian Olympic gold medallists and a Toronto-based infection disease specialist are hopeful the IOC-China vaccine deal can help other countries in the fight against COVID-19.

Wrestler Erica Wiebe says it would be a great outcome if the partnership "can help athletes and citizens of countries with less robust vaccination plans than Canada."

Wiebe, who captured gold in 2016 in Rio, says she's optimistic Canadians can have one dose of an approved vaccine before Canada Day.

Two-time trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan hopes she and every Canadian in her age category has access to a Canadian-approved vaccine by July.

"I'm hopeful this is possible given the increasing numbers of available doses coming to Canada in the next few weeks and months," the 32-year-old said.

"Generally speaking, the more athletes who are vaccinated, the better. It would allow not only greater protection for athletes, but also for Japan and our respective countries as we return home."

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert at the University of Toronto, says the vaccine deal is a sign that the Olympics will be held.

“It’s a total equity issue," said Bogoch, who is on Ontario's vaccine task force.

"Some individuals in some countries just won’t have access because their country is not as fortunate as Canada or the United States or the European Union countries. Doesn’t mean they don’t have world-class athletes that should have every opportunity to compete. And this will enable that.”

Bogoch thinks Canadian athletes should stick to vaccines with a green light in Canada.

“I think from a Canadian perspective, if a vaccine isn’t approved in Canada, you wouldn’t recommend a Canadian athlete get that vaccine. It’s as simple as that. You would want a Canadian athlete to have a vaccine that’s approved in Canada," he said.

— With files from Donna Spencer in Calgary and Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.

The Canadian Press