As training camp creeps closer and nationwide vaccination efforts continue into the summer, NFL teams find themselves updating their own tallies for who has received their COVID-19 vaccination.
Teams with the vast majority of their rosters and coaching staffs vaccinated can relax COVID-19 protocols and return to a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy, a reality that some see as an attainable competitive advantage. To that effort, the NFL informed its clubs it expected them to participate in information sessions for players, families and staff, as well as hosting vaccination clinics.
Washington held such an event Tuesday, inviting a vaccine expert to speak with players after completing vaccination efforts with all coaches and non-football employees, coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday.
"It's affecting us well. We've got all our coaches, all our employees in the building vaccinated," Rivera said. "We're slowly getting more and more players vaccinated. It's a choice. They've got to make a choice. We're trying to stress the fact that if we can get to herd immunity, we'll really be able to get out there and enjoy things. So hopefully that'll happen."
One of Rivera's players, defensive end Montez Sweat, was adamant he is currently not willing to get vaccinated when speaking with reporters Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the team brought in an expert to provide players with valuable information regarding the vaccine.
"I'm not a fan of it," Sweat said, via The Washington Post's Sam Fortier. "I probably won't get vaccinated until I get more facts and all that type (of) stuff. I'm not a fan of it at all."
"... I haven't caught COVID yet. I don't see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID."
The NFL is requiring vaccinations among Tier 1 and 2 employees unless they have "bona fide" exemptions in order to relax COVID-19 protocols and enter restricted areas. Rivera said the Wednesday that all of his coaches and staff have been vaccinated. That wasn't the case for every club, though, as of late last week. Assistant coaches from at least four NFL teams were set to lose their Tier 1 status if they didn't receive their first dose by June 11, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. Losing Tier 1 status would prohibit coaches from accessing practice fields and meeting rooms, and having direct interactions with players, per Pelissero.
There is no such requirement for players. Instead, players who are vaccinated can relax protocol adherence, but those who are not will still be expected to wear masks, socially distance themselves and be subject to daily testing.
As with any vaccination, the purpose and goal of inoculation is to prevent infection and protect a patient from experiencing severe symptoms related to contraction of the novel coronavirus. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control released findings from a new study that revealed mRNA COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration reduce the risk of infection by 91 percent for those fully vaccinated. More importantly, the study also is among the first to show that mRNA vaccination benefits those who contract COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, as it is likely those who are infected after vaccination will have "milder, shorter illness and appear to be less likely to spread the virus to others," CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a news release.
Armed with this information, Rivera is among the coaches who are attempting to best educate their players ahead of the season in order for them to be properly equipped to make an informed decision on vaccination. He said Tuesday's gathering influenced a handful of players to get vaccinated.
In a world rife with misinformation, Rivera is making an effort to help his players find clarity.
"I think we're nearing the 50 percent, somewhere in there," Rivera said. "I know we had a few more get vaccinated yesterday. We're trying to gather as much information and allow the players to get as much information so they can make a choice and make a decision. We try to accommodate. We actually got one of the vaccine experts to speak to our players last night. She was outstanding. Our players were engaged. They asked a lot of good questions, and off of that, we had several guys that are getting vaccinated or have gotten vaccinated because of that.
"Again, I think the big thing is we've got to be able to facilitate the opportunity for these guys to understand. A lot of guys, there's a lot of messaging that's out there that they get off of Twitter. Some of it's good, some of it's bad. I'm not sure if these guys watch television, the news, as much as I do to try to gather as much information. So we're really trying to help them because again if we can get to herd immunity, we can really cut it loose and really be able to spend time with each other."
The collective goal is a simple one for the general population: Most everyone would like to return to a daily life that closer to normal than it has been for the last 15 months. The vaccination effort is in line with this goal, and as Rivera said, the higher the vaccination rate, the higher the chance teams can again enjoy a life free from worry about the threat of COVID-19.