The staff and freelancers present at the MotoGP test in Qatar are to be offered the chance to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The Qatari government has agreed to vaccinate all staff who want to receive the vaccine starting from tomorrow morning, before a large section of the paddock flies home in between the two tests. If they accept, they will receive a first shot on Friday morning, and the second of the two required doses after the first race at Losail, to be held on March 28th.
The stated objective of the vaccination is twofold: to protect the state of Qatar from having members of the MotoGP paddock bring the disease with them when they return for the 2021 season opening double header at the end of March. And to offer protection to a large group of itinerant workers who, by the very nature of their job, are at risk due to the amount of travel MotoGP has to do to get from race to race.
The decision to offer the vaccine followed on from a similar decision in Bahrain, where the regime there also offered the F1 teams and paddock a vaccination. A large section of the F1 paddock, including F1's organization, have rejected the offer, as being based in the United Kingdom, many are already enrolled in the UK's successful NHS vaccination program. Some teams, such as Ferrari, based in Italy, have chosen to accept the offer.
For MotoGP, where the vast majority of the teams are based in Spain and Italy, where vaccination started much later, there is more interest in the vaccine.
Despite the fact that there have been rumors for over a week or so that vaccination could be offered to the MotoGP paddock, there was still some confusion over what people would decide to do. When asked about vaccination, Maverick Viñales wasn't decided. "About the vaccination, I don't know," the Monster Energy Yamaha rider said. "I didn't even talk to the team yet. So we will see later on. But sure it's some protection that you put to yourself."
Of course, motorcycle racers are not the best people to ask about matters epidemiological, but if there is an exception, it is Miguel Oliveira. As a qualified dentist, the Portuguese rider at least has extensive medical training. But KTM told media that neither Red Bull Factory KTM rider would answer questions about the vaccination program.
There is another reason for Qatar offering the vaccine to the MotoGP paddock, of course, and that is because of the PR value. The value of that is debatable, however, at least from a national and organizational level.
For the state of Qatar, offering the vaccine to a group of privileged foreign visitors while according to the Oxford University project Our World In Data only 11% of their own eligible population has received the vaccine may seem to be favoring sport over the local residents. Qatar's large population of migrant workers, exploited and living in very cramped quarters, would seem to be much more deserving recipients than a group of people in the country for a few short weeks.
The decision to accept the Qatari offer can also backfire for Dorna. The organization is engaged in something which looks a little too much like queue jumping, exploiting the privilege which comes with elite sport. That may provoke a backlash in some quarters.
On the other hand, footage of high-profile athletes receiving the vaccine can also help to overcome vaccine hesitancy among some groups. As always, there are no easy solutions to complex questions.
The personal perspective is competely different from an organizational point of view. Individuals inside the paddock will rightly jump at the chance to protect themselves against a disease that just three weeks ago, claimed the life of former 125cc champion and team boss Fausto Gresini, and the lives of countless others directly or indirectly linked to the MotoGP paddock.
The press release from Dorna appears below:
The State of Qatar and MotoGP™️ partner to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to all members of the MotoGP™️ family coming to Doha
Thursday, 11 March 2021
The State of Qatar has significantly ramped-up its COVID-19 vaccination program in 2021, and as a result of this progress, it is able to offer all travelling members of the MotoGP™️ Paddock access to the vaccine.
Qatar and MotoGP™️ have been partners since 2004, when Losail International Circuit first joined the calendar, and Qatar has opened the MotoGP™️ calendar every year since 2007.
This season Qatar will host all pre-season testing for all classes of the Championship, as well as the first two Grands Prix, with the entire MotoGP™️ family being present in Qatar for up to five weeks.
To ensure the health and safety of the entire tour while they are in Qatar and on their continued travels around the world this season, the Government of the State of Qatar has offered MotoGP™️ access to COVID-19 vaccines.
All members of the Championship, including those working and travelling within the MotoGP™️ paddock, will have the chance to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The vaccination program is aimed at increasing the personal safety of all those on-site. It will offer increased protection for those in the MotoGP™️ paddock and all those that come into contact with it as the sport travels the world this season.
Qatar has provided incredible sporting moments and many milestones have been achieved together, and it is an honour to add another, even more vital for the longstanding collaboration. The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports would like to thank the State of Qatar for offering this incredible opportunity to the MotoGP™️ family which will help minimise any risk to the future of the Championship and all its members.