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The Hungarian government announced a few weeks ago to support giving priority access to coronavirus vaccines for Olympic athletes. Despite the controversy the issue has generated, their inoculation started on Friday morning.

The Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB) turned to the government in mid-January to give priority order to athletes who have a chance to qualify for the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games to get vaccinated.

At the time, PMO head Gergely Gulyás said the government was open to the idea, and after discussing the matter with the MOB, athletes and their coaches participating in the Olympic games would be provided vaccines.

So far ten athletes have been selected to receive a Moderna jab, while additional contestants and professionals working with them will also be vaccinated in the coming weeks.

Their priority order is based on a calendar compiled from the dates of the Olympic qualifying events and foreign training camps.

The Hungarian Olympic Committee, together with sports federations, has drawn up a list of 868 people, which includes those athletes who stand a chance of qualifying for this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games and next winter’s Beijing Games.

Debates surrounding priority access of athletes for the covid-19 vaccine continues worldwide as many sports administrators and athletes express their often contrasting opinions on the matter. Israel and Denmark already announced they would vaccinate their athletes and staff against COVID-19 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, but many countries are hesitant to do so. Great Britain has even said that they won’t be giving their athletes COVID-19 vaccine priority, citing it as morally wrong.

Opinions are divided in Hungary as well.

Pál Schmitt, two-time Olympic champion and former president of Hungary and former president of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, and a member of the International Olympic Committee, said in an interview that athletes preparing for the Olympics and their coaches should be vaccinated as soon as possible. According to Schmitt, this means around six to seven hundred people, which is a negligible number given the expected arrival of hundreds of thousands of vaccines.

This will ensure that Hungarian athletes can participate in the Olympic qualifying tournaments and prepare for this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games safely, he said.

However, Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University, emphasized that elite athletes could not be prioritized over the elderly, as “it wouldn’t be ethical.” The cardiologist professor believes that older people suffer from a more serious progression of the disease, which is why high-risk groups must be vaccinated first.

Featured photo illustration by Tamás Kovács/MTI 

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