Covid-19 vaccines are not yet freely available to most South Africans, but the Springboks rugby squad is going to get early vaccinations before they embark on their hectic schedule of international games both at home and overseas.
The Springboks, as well as those named in South Africa’s Olympic Games squad, will be getting the last thousand doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used in the Sisonke project to inoculate health workers. If these vaccines are not used in the next week or so, they will go to waste.
The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) are behind the Springboks being vaccinated, saying it will enable them to travel much more easily by the middle of June and do their jobs, fulfilling their ambassadorial roles for South Africa.
Waiting for the Pfizer vaccinations would not be practical because that requires two doses 42 days apart and then another 14-day wait before recipients are cleared for travel.
SA Rugby, whose financial survival depends on the Springboks getting back on to the field and playing this year, have said they will not comment on the matter, but sources close to the Springbok team have confirmed they are going to be vaccinated soon.
The Springboks host Georgia for two warm-up Tests on July 3 and July 10 before heading into their high-stakes series against the British and Irish Lions.
After that the Rugby Championship starts in August with two Tests against Argentina in South Africa, before the Springboks are on their way to Australasia, where travel restrictions are very strict, to play the remainder of the tournament.
The move will be seen as controversial in some quarters because there has already been lots of criticism of “queue jumpers” getting the vaccine before the over-60s who are meant to be protected first.
But the Olympic Games are scheduled to start in less than two months on July 23, so those participants don’t have time to wait.
MRC head Professor Glenda Gray has said elite sports people will be part of the many clinical trials that will be ongoing while the vaccines are being rolled out nationwide. With case numbers rising, the country is widely predicted to go into a third wave of infections as it heads into winter.
South Africa is behind most developed nations in terms of vaccine roll-out and the Springboks, who have not played since winning the World Cup in November 2019, are in danger of falling behind the rest of the rugby-playing world.