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Fact-checking whether professional athletes will receive the COVID-19 before others

by Cédric Ayisa - December 18, 2020   883 Views   4 min
Fact-checking whether professional athletes will receive the COVID-19 before others


Professional athletes will receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the general population


Inaccurate as a whole (with reservations)

According to a sports media article from 6 December , "professional athletes will receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the general population", because sports leagues will want to get their hands on the vaccines in order to resume more normal sporting activities. This information is inaccurate overall, with some reservations.

The article is based on a Radio-Canada article, which explains that since pharmaceutical companies are often private companies, they are free, after approval by public authorities, to sell their products on the open market. This implies that these pharmaceutical companies "have ample right to enter into contracts with customers of their choice". As a result, sports leagues can use this free-market logic, as well as the funds at their disposal to procure vaccines, even if athletes are not among the priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine. As of December 16, 2020, only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been licensed by Health Canada.

Who has priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Even before the first doses of the vaccine arrived, a determination needed to be made as to which groups should have first access, especially considering the current limited quantities received by Canada (30,000 for the first shipment and 249,000 by the end of December 2020, according to the forecast for Pfizer/BioNTech, and 168,000 from Moderna in the same period).

According to the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI)*, for the first phase of distribution, four groups of people should be given priority :

- Residents and staff in community living environments, who provide care to the elderly

- Adults 70 years of age and older, starting with adults 80 years of age and older, then decreasing the age limit in 5-year increments to 70 years of age as supply is available

- Health-care workers (including all those who work in health-care settings and personal support workers, whose work requires direct contact with patients)

- Adults in Indigenous communities where the infection may have disproportionate consequences

According to Health Canada, this order of priority will be followed to deliver the vaccine to those considered most at risk. However, provinces will ultimately decide on the priority groups for vaccine delivery.

As announced by federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the first vaccines were administered in Canada, in Montreal and Toronto, on 14 December. Health-care professionals in long-term care facilities as well as residents of those facilities have begun to receive the vaccines.

In an interview with Global News, the head of Pfizer Canada said that, for now, the commitment is to respect government contracts and that "the government is best placed to determine an equitable distribution among its population.” Therefore, we say that the article is inaccurate - professional athletes will not have priority access to vaccines.

However, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may not be the only one on the market. Other vaccines, such as Moderna's, may also be licensed in the coming days or weeks. At that time, athletes may be asked to lead by example by getting vaccinated in front of a live audience, and that could potentially change the situation. These last two points justify the reservations in our verdict.

A complex task ahead

In a previous article published on, we discussed the challenges that authorities may face in distributing vaccines such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. It requires a storage temperature of -70℃ and a maximum stay of 5 days in a regular refrigerator, while the Moderna vaccine can be stored at -20℃ for 6 months, or 30 days in a regular refrigerator. In addition, people living in remote areas, such as some indigenous communities, and people who are unable to travel to vaccination centers should also be considered. On December 15, Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Howard Njoo, as reported by Radio-Canada, stated that the Canadian territories had requested to receive the Moderna vaccine rather than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine precisely because of the complexity of storing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

What WHO says

In his 7 December address, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus invited countries to build on WHO’s Values Framework and Population Prioritization Roadmap, which includes recommendations on who should be prioritized for immunization, and sets out the principles behind those recommendations. Included in the framework is the COVAX Facility, a UNICEF initiative whose objectives include facilitating global access to COVID-19 vaccines.

In turn, Mr. Tedros stressed the importance of prioritizing certain groups for early immunization. Among those are:

- Health-care workers who are at high risk of infection since the vaccine will help protect them as well as the health care system.

- Those most at risk of serious illness or death due to their age are also a priority group, as their protection will reduce serious illness and death and reduce the burden on health systems. 

- As the supply of vaccines increases, vaccination should be extended to groups at higher risk of serious illness due to their underlying health status, as well as marginalized groups at high risk.

He also reiterated that as vaccines become more widely available, it is important to continue to follow existing health measures, such as wearing masks, hand washing and physical distancing, to limit the spread of the virus.

* "NACI is an external advisory body composed of experts from a variety of fields, primarily health, that works with the Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Infectious Diseases of the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide ongoing and timely medical, scientific and public health advice. It also makes recommendations for the use of currently or newly approved vaccines in humans in Canada, including the identification of risk groups for vaccine-preventable diseases who should be targeted for vaccination. »

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Professional athletes will receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the general population


Inaccurate as a whole (with reservations)

 December 18, 2020


Learn more about our fact-checking methodology HERE.

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