Written by Staff Writer
Margaret Simons, CNN
Australian authorities who proposed a new mandatory vaccination policy in some sport codes last week are not “blackmailing” international tennis player Novak Djokovic, the nation’s sports minister has said.
As a means of preventing a resurgence of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), or cancer of the cervix, the government has asked the Australian rules football league, cricket, rugby league and soccer codes to vaccinate all players and officials before and during the 2017-18 season.
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Australian sports minister, Christopher Pyne, told reporters Tuesday that the move was “unprecedented.”
He said the total number of required vaccinations depends on factors such as whether players were on overseas tours, and that “we’re very confident that it will be at least 96%” for each code, “but you want to be sure about that, so 98%-99%.”
However, the Office of Sport, which is in charge of the vaccination process, says 95% of soccer players and 88% of cricket players in the same scenario would be vaccinated.
Up until now, the HPV vaccine has been offered in two doses to girls and women aged between 11 and 14 at a cost of around $14 (A$18.50). But for the new policy, it would be offered in three doses over the course of a year to adult players and officials.
In 2015, the Australian Health Department recommended that girls and women be vaccinated, particularly those aged 16 to 25. However, the policy will only be implemented if every code ratifies it during negotiations.
‘You don’t mess with success’
Vaccinating athletes and officials will benefit both the public and the sporting code, Pyne said.
“There’s no easy single solution to eradicate HPV, but this proposed policy is the first of its kind in the world and I think it will have a very positive effect,” he told CNN.
Currently, 17 million Australians are infected with HPV, with 15,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the Australian Health Department.
Djokovic is one of the world’s best tennis players and recently won the US Open. He’s donated over $8 million to “protect people against HPV-related diseases,” according to the Australian Sports Commission.
In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, the Serbian tennis star said he would remain “greatly involved” in efforts to raise awareness of HPV related cancer.
“You can’t use fear to deter people from what’s proven to be life-saving. We use sport to make people aware that medical treatments are available to fight these diseases and that we can play tennis without fear,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in the public or the private sector – and you’re in sport – you don’t mess with success.”
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