COVID-19 boosters on the back burner for most professional sports leagues


The push for booster shots isn’t an immediate priority in most of the top sports leagues in North America, even with the delta and omicron variants spreading.

The NFL and NHL currently have no plans to follow the NBA’s lead and require players, coaches and staff to receive a COVID-19 booster to be considered fully vaccinated according to protocols. the league – although cases continue to arise.

Five NHL games have been postponed so far this season, with two teams briefly shut down to quell outbreaks, and high profile vaccinated stars like Joel Embiid and Ben Roethlisberger have missed the action after testing positive. We are a long way from 2020 when the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball have rescheduled dozens of games, but the pandemic is still proving disruptive.

Rather, NFL and NHL officials are touting current vaccination rates above 90% as the reason the virus cases so far have been largely mild or asymptomatic. MLB is in a lockdown that has cut off contact with players, but even before that there was no vaccine mandate or roadmap for adding boosters.

The United States Centers for Disease Control has recommended booster shots for those 16 and older. None of the four major professional sports leagues in North America has a vaccine mandate.

“We’re not at that point yet,” NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said when asked to make boosters count as fully immunized for the 700 or so players in the team. league. “We are obviously in ongoing consultation with our doctors and when and if they say, ‘Look, all things considered, we think this is what should be done or needs to be done or is a good idea if individuals want it. do “is what we are going to convey to the players.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said a plan similar to the NBA’s has yet to be discussed. The NHL has 99.9% of players on active vaccine lists and recommends but does not require recalls.

“Obviously (boosters are) more and more recommended every day, so obviously we encouraged clubs and players to get boosters as soon as possible,” said Daly. “Whether that falls under the definition of fully immunized, I’m not sure whether or not it does. This will ultimately be a decision made by health professionals. “

New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello, whose team with Ottawa was shut down by the NHL, said boosters were available and interest was high.

“Most of our players have received a recall at this point,” said Lamoriello. “We haven’t had any hindsight on any of our vaccination recommendations, whatever it may have been – whether it was Pfizer, whether it was Moderna, whether it was Johnson & Johnson. Whatever they choose, we have tried to make it available.

The NBA told the teams that those who do not receive an additional dose of vaccine by December 17 will be subject to more stringent protocols, which may include additional testing. The league said this week that 60% of NBA players and staff have received a recall.

“If you can get it, you should get it,” said Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers, whose team has handled a number of COVID-19 player absences. “(We should send) any good message we can send about this by doing the right thing.”

The NFL, which reports that 94.4% of players are fully vaccinated, has not yet made a booster vaccine in its protocol. “Clearly, public health guidelines are pushing us to embrace boosters,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills told NFL Network last week.

For now, the subject is left to individual teams. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks have a reminder day for players, coaches and staff this week.

“Everyone was involved and had an opportunity and they had niches if they wanted to,” Carroll said. “Not everyone took advantage of it today, but a lot of people did.”

Boosters could also make commercial sense for leagues seeking to avoid disruption, according to Dr Stuart Ray, a coronavirus expert at Johns Hopkins who pointed to a recent study that shows that an extra dose may reduce the chances of being 86% infected.

“I think it’s all upside down and the boosters are very safe,” said Ray, an infectious disease specialist.

Still, Fehr said the NHL has “been able to cope” so far by postponing and rescheduling only a handful of games.

“In this crazy world, it’s pretty good,” Fehr said.

Some teams have reverted to more stringent protocols when a cluster of cases emerges. The Washington Capitals, who have had four players in COVID-19 this season, took daily testing this week.

“We’re doing everything we can, but right now we’re there,” said coach Peter Laviolette, who added that booster shots were available for players and staff who wanted one. “The whole world is facing it. “

Daly said evidence from the NHL showed that epidemics in teams are the result of community transmission and not because the virus spreads in locker rooms like last season, before vaccines were widely available for the general public. He added that there was no evidence of team-to-team transmission either.

Daly said that a “relatively small minority” of NHL players have received the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson and not the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna. Ray said the protection against infection, especially against the newer variants, decreased more significantly with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“The boost really fills the gap that we didn’t know would happen when the J&J came out,” said Ray. “We’ve all said to people, ‘Look, the best vaccine is the one you can get,’ but now we’ve learned that the J&J vaccine is a little less effective, but when boosted it works great.

After returning from his absence on the COVID-19 protocol, Capitals center Lars Eller said a doctor told him being vaccinated kept his case from getting more serious. Amid his team’s outbreak, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said he was confident in this from his own experience with the disease.

“It eases the symptoms which is great and always worth getting,” he said.


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds, AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi, and AP Sports Writers Tim Booth and Dan Gelston contributed.


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