'Aaron Rodgers has a lot of pull:' Will fans be swayed by quarterback's anti-vaccine stance?

Less than three miles from Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, is the home of another football team – the Green Bay West High School Wildcats.

“Kids’ jaws would probably be touching the floor if Aaron Rodgers even walked through our school," said Skylar Liebzeit, the head coach at Green Bay West High. “It’s unbelievable the amount of pull and sway that these public figures, especially in athletics, have on the entire world, not even just athletes."

Liebzeit was speaking after Rodgers publicly disclosed on Friday he was not vaccinated against COVID-19 and had opted for other treatments, some of which have questionable efficacy and safety, according to medical experts and studies. Rodgers will not be with the Packers for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday because he has been sidelined for at least 10 days by an NFL-mandated quarantine. But he continues to spark conversation – including over his impact on those who remain undecided on whether to get vaccinated.

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“Obviously in Wisconsin and in athletics, football especially, Aaron Rodgers has a lot of pull, as weird as it sounds," Liebzeit said. “Is it something that I could see kids and parents going to? I think we’re going to find out for sure."

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rene Najera, an epidemiologist and director of the History of Vaccines project at College of Physicians of Philadelphia, said “unfortunately people are going to get hurt" because some will opt for the methods Rodgers said he has followed, including taking ivermectin, a drug often given to animals to fight off parasites.

Said Najera: "They’re going to be misinformed into making a decision that will place them at higher risk of contracting COVID and high risk of complications, hospitalization and death because of something they heard from an authority figure, and in this case is somebody who is a very good NFL player."

Najera, who teaches at Johns Hopkins and George Mason University, said celebrities such as Rodgers "plant a seed’’ about the viability of questionable approaches or risk of a vaccine.

“Then regular people start spreading that seed among themselves," Najera said. “And that’s the real impact of all this, is the planting of that seed through a megaphone that allows that information then to be spread by regular people, and we’re more likely to listen to people who are like ourselves than to people who are not like ourselves. (Rodgers) might reach a small audience, but if that small audience starts putting it in their social circles, that’s where the story gains traction."

Wisconsin residents might offer insight into Rodgers’ impact when it comes to people’s choice to get vaccinated.

Liebzeit missed his team’s season opener because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He said he has not been vaccinated and it’s unlikely he would not try anything Rodgers mentioned during his radio appearance on Friday.

“Too many unknown variables (in Rodgers' approach)," Liebzeit said. “I feel if there was more known about it, maybe. But as of now, it’s not a choice for me.’’

This week, Wisconsin state health officials gave the go-ahead to distribute pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children between 5 and 11. The eligible children will include football players at East River Pop Warner in Green Bay. Many of those children played on Lambeau Field during halftime of Packers’ games – a perk of USA Football’s partnership with the NFL, said Jimmy Reiffers, president of the East River Pop Warner.

But Reiffers said he thinks it would take more than an endorsement from Rodgers for kids and their parents to eschew the vaccine for other treatments.

“Yeah, they might look up to them, they might act in the backyard like they’re pretending to be Aaron Rodgers," said Reiffers, who also said he got the COVID-19 vaccination. “But really what these pro athletes are saying, I don’t know if it’s really going to affect what the kids are going to do.’’

The timing might limit Rodgers’ impact on public rates of vaccination, according to K. “Vish” Viswanath, a member of the faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Viswanath said most people who at one point were reluctant to get vaccinated already have done it. But he didn’t dismiss Rodgers’ influence.

“In certain pockets, it’s definitely going to affect people’s opinions,’’ said Viswanath, who has researched the role of health communication in health and well-being. “He’s one of the best players on one of the best teams and certainly people look up to him.

“But it’s not going to have much of an impact on the broad general audience."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Aaron Rodgers' anti-vaccine approach sway fans of Packers QB?