Correction: a previous version of this article misidentified the swimmer receiving the vaccine as Matteo Rivolta. The article has been updated.
Italian swimmer Matteo Restivo is the first Italian professional athlete to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. He is also believed to be the first elite swimmer globally to have revealed receipt of a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Restivo did not say which vaccine he received, though the two-dose Pfizer vaccine is the primary vaccine available in the country.
While the 26-year old National Team swimmer is of a relatively-low risk for serious health concerns from COVID-19 because of his age and fitness, he received the vaccine because he is studying medicine at the University of Florence. The program gives him exposure to hospitals, so he was vaccinated with other medical workers, students, and those who spend a significant amount of time working in hospitals.
Restivo, as many of the early vaccinated medical workers have done around the world, posted a photo of him receiving the vaccine and encouraging others to do the same.
“The COVID vaccine marks the end of this horrible period of uncertainty, anxiety and fear,” the post reads in part. “Getting vaccinated is an important gesture not only for yourself but also for all the people around us. So when your turn comes, don’t hesitate!”
“It seems strange that the first vaccinated athlete is not a footballer,” Restivo said in an interview with SkySport. “It is me because I am about to complete my course in Medicine and Surgery. I am missing four exams to graduate and the University of Florence has made available doses for us undergraduate students who are present in hospitals, so we had this great opportunity.
“We hope this is the first step to get out of this situation. It is the only solution to put this bad period behind us. The scientific literature tells us that it is a safe, effective vaccine and I advise everyone to inform themselves through official channels and not the Facebook posts of those who have no scientific knowledge.”
As of January 6, a total of 259,481 people had been vaccinated in Italy against COVID-19; according to Italy’s Higher Health Council, that ranks them 2nd in Europe. Only Britain has administered more, claiming 1.3 million vaccinations by January 5 – though they began much sooner, on December 8th.
Other EU nations have not yet begun to administer vaccines.
Restivo won a bronze medal in the 200 backstroke at the 2018 European Aquatics Championships, and added another as a prelims swimmer on the mixed 400 medley relay.
Restivo raced to a 3rd-place finish at the Italian Championships in mid-December, swimming 1:59.57.