The COVID-19 vaccine has been a hot topic in the NFL lately, with Bills receiver Cole Beasley's anti-vax tweet going viral and other prominent players and coaches voicing their opinions. Because the league is allowing players to make their own decisions regarding the vaccine, it has become a contentious and politicized discussion on social media.
The reality of the situation boils down to this: players who choose to get the vaccine will be putting their teams at a competitive advantage and will have a much more normal life during the upcoming season. Vaccinated players will essentially be able to go back to the pre-pandemic way of life, with no testings, masks, or restrictions. Importantly, that means they won't have to quarantine — potentially missing practices and/or games — if they come into contact with a player who tests positive for the virus.
Players who have not been vaccinated, however, will have to continue following the rules and protocols put into place for everyone in 2020. That means daily testing, social distancing, masks, contact tracing, and everything we became familiar with last year.
"If you're not vaccinated, you're just living in a different world," Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson said recently on his podcast All Things Covered. "I just think, why put yourself at risk of going through that again? Everybody has their different views on the shot. But at the end of the day, if we're all in this and trying to win a championship, if there's a very small percentage of the shots affecting people, why not put yourself in the best position possible to win a championship?"
The Vikings, like every team, have players on both sides. Peterson shared that he has been vaccinated, as did Eric Kendricks, who cited wanting to travel to see family members without risk of getting or spreading COVID. But Harrison Smith and Adam Thielen — who missed a game last season while on the COVID reserve list — said earlier this month that they have not been vaccinated, and Kirk Cousins declined to share if he had gotten the shot.
On Friday, it was reported that 65 percent of NFL players have received at least one does of the vaccine. There have been some rumors and reports that the league's desired threshold for relaxed team-wide protocols is 85 percent, although there's still a month until training camp begins.
While the NFL isn't mandating vaccines, it has been providing teams with educational materials and other information about why the vaccine is safe and beneficial. Mike Zimmer said earlier this month that the Vikings had a team meeting with Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer, who talked about the safety of the vaccine and the protocols that will be in place.
"He talked to them about why they should, even if they have had COVID, still get vaccinated because your antibodies are way off the charts," Zimmer said. "You’re going to be safer if it comes back again. We are just trying to educate those guys. They have to make their own decisions. The unvaccinated players are going to have a hard time during the season, they are going to be wearing masks, they’re going to have to social distance, they’ll have daily testing. They won’t go home for bye week and have to come back here and test every day. When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on busses differently and travel on planes differently, so a lot of meetings will be virtual like we have here. It’s not only the safety part of being vaccinated, but as far as being a part of a football team. For me, for instance, I don’t have to wear a mask. We had a staff meeting the other day and everybody is in the same room."
It'll be interesting to see what the NFL's vaccination numbers look like when training camp kicks off and when the regular season rolls around. This is going to remain a notable storyline going forward.
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