The National Football League’s second pandemic season had begun. Last year’s sports season was hard to navigate, especially the National Football League because of Covid.
The pandemic is still a major factor going into this season. Last season teams were hopeful for vaccines, but now they are a reality, and the teams with higher percentage of vaccinated players may have advantage this season on the field.
High vaccination rates are not just a public health benefit. Vaccinated players can skip the tiresome and invasive process of health and safety protocols that consumed their lives just a season ago. If players are vaccinated, they are subject to loosened restrictions, less frequent testing and mask wearing. On the other hand, players who are not vaccinated will have to follow health and safety protocol. They are more susceptible to missing time because of contact tracing. Players could also risk potential forfeits for their team if they cause an outbreak that upends the schedule. “I didn’t want to get the vaccine,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed tweeted in July according to the Wall Street Journal. “The NFL & National Football League Players Association made getting the vaccine a competitive advantage. I just got my vaccine because I don’t want to hinder my team.”
A players’ decision whether to get the vaccine have already had a serious impact on their team this season. For example, in the preseason, unvaccinated players were sidelined because of safety protocols because they opted not to get vaccinated. Preseason may not mean much but it does foreshadow what could happen in the regular season.
“I do think we are in a much better place than we were in last year at this time,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “By far, the main driver of my optimism is that we have a very highly effective set of vaccines which are working to ameliorate this pandemic.”
93% of the NFL’s players are vaccinated; that number has increased since mid-July when 73% of the league was vaccinated according to the Wall Street Journal. The other seven percent of players may seem small but what to teams whose best players fall into that seven percent?
That was the case for the Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz, who recently had to be isolated for five days because he was deemed a high-risk, close contact of a positive individual. During the regular season that would have forced him to miss a game, but it is a procedure he would not be subject to had he been vaccinated. Wentz is one of the many games changing players who could put their team in a tough situation. Many players who may not be unvaccinated have declined to confirm whether they had or not received a shot. These types of problems may be problematic for teams as the season continues.
NFL players who are vaccinated will help to promote the vaccinations for the public. They also will help players stay in the field and help their team compete for a Super Bowl.