Australian Open to get ‘real-time’ hand, foot and mouth virus vaccinations

The Australian Open tennis championships is to be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases after the tournament organisers were warned about a ‘growing epidemic’ of hand, foot and mouth disease at the event…

Australian Open to get 'real-time' hand, foot and mouth virus vaccinations

The Australian Open tennis championships is to be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases after the tournament organisers were warned about a ‘growing epidemic’ of hand, foot and mouth disease at the event last year.

The most recent outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease caused much concern at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in 2017 and finished just before the start of the tournament.

Excluding anomalies, 48 players were withdrawn as a result of the illness and since the organisers receive their annual vaccination, the Championships now provide vaccination on arrival at Melbourne Park, meaning all players will be fully protected against it.

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The Tennis Australia medical officer, Dr Peter Gray, said the move was made for “pure health reasons”.

“It’s very hard to envisage us moving down the road where we’re forced to do it at any event, particularly a tournament of the calibre of the Australian Open,” he said.

“We’re very conscious that the players have a great number of contact and interaction during the course of the tournament. They’ve often traveled on long distances with their families, partners and so on.

“At the end of the day it’s a risk management option for us. It ensures that the athletes, other people at the venue and the wider population is protected, and in the event that this would occur here, they would be protected.”

Gray said the tennis authorities had previously consulted with the Public Health Association of Australia, with all players receiving vaccinations prior to the tournament start last year.

Players are only allowed to apply for and provide the required documentation in 2016 and 2017 due to the “volatile” nature of the virus.

“It’s a one-in-100 year virus and at the moment it hasn’t actually got out of containment in Australia,” Gray said. “So it’s safe to carry out the vaccinations as it is.”

In the wake of the outbreak, tournament director Craig Tiley said the matter was not the first time Melbourne Park has been hit by such an outbreak.

“Unfortunately, in recent years we’ve had issues with hand, foot and mouth disease in several years, and the centre of it is within the grounds where we play our tennis,” he said.

“It was a concern to us and everyone else because it happened so close to the start of the tennis.”

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