As NFL waits its turn for COVID vaccine, chances of players getting it before Super Sunday are 'pretty low'

The largest vaccination campaign in the history of the United States began Monday, with thousands of health care workers around the country receiving the COVID-19 vaccine for the first time.

This is as it should be, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith reiterated during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“When it comes to the vaccine, we will never jump the line or do anything that would take away resources from those people who need it first and foremost,” Smith said. “And I’m pretty sure, well, I know, the league feels exactly the same way.”

Millions of dollars hang in the balance for the NFL as games must be played to generate revenue, and though no games have been canceled, there has been no shortage of positive cases and schedule rearranging. Still, the league and its players have insisted that they will not look to cut the vaccine line. As a result, the league, which has poured millions into daily COVID testing while navigating the choppy waters of playing a full season without a bubble, will keep its safety protocols in place, at least until the majority of the league’s players have been vaccinated.

The question of when exactly vaccination will happen remains unclear, even though it’s slowly starting to come into focus.

“If you run the math out based on distribution, the likelihood that our players would be in line prior to the first Sunday in February is pretty low, so I don’t think it’s likely to be an issue this year for players,” Dr. Thom Mayer, the medical director of the NFL Players Association, said on the call.

If the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes make it back to the Super Bowl, it's unlikely they or any other players will have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by then, according to the NFLPA's medical director. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Healthcare workers, along with staff and residents of long-term care facilities, are the first in line to receive the vaccine. The average person likely won’t get it until the spring. A recent White House report said the vaccine likely won’t curb U.S. spread until then, since that’s when Americans with comorbidities should be fully immunized.

That hasn’t stopped the union from advising players and their families about the vaccine, in terms of risk-benefit ratios.

“We’ve let them know that the side effects are mild for a vaccine, meaning arm pain, some flu-like symptoms for a couple of days,” Mayer said. “It’s my personal opinion that’s unlikely to be an issue during the course of this particular season, but it will be an issue that we’ll have to face.”

Until then, players have been advised to protect themselves and their families, Mayer said, and not just through possible vaccinations when the time comes. The union has been preaching for months that players should continue to follow the guidelines of physical distancing, masking and PPE, all in the name of safety.

On Tuesday, the union and the NFL announced there were 12 positive COVID tests among the ranks of its players last week, the fourth straight week the number has dropped. It appears the NFLPA is generally satisfied with the compliance from its membership.

Until players get their hands on the vaccine, this type of self-regulation with regard to enforcing the COVID protocols remains the greatest hope for achieving a postseason without a bubble, which the league informed teams Tuesday it has decided to put into effect.

“The one thing that I think can never be overemphasized is the incredible discipline that these men have shown during the course of the season, the incredible resiliency in terms of how they behave within the ecosystem of the facility and on the road and away games,” Mayer said. “But also the discipline of the families. It’s staggering how well they’ve been able to control their ecosystem to make sure the virus doesn’t get transmitted.”

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