If you're someone who looks at full NFL stadiums and worries they are potentially superspreading events, you are far from alone. If you see people in close quarters watching baseball inside a full stadium and believe COVID-19 gives that a huge thumbs up, well, one of the best immunologists in the world says don't panic.
"If you have a stadium full of people and many of them are vaccinated, they will be protected, and others will be protected, from serious illness," said Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, one of the creators of the Moderna vaccine, in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.
"There are some concerns," she said. "People who study what we do worry about things like people screaming at the top of their lungs in stadiums. But overall I'm not as concerned about stadiums as I am about things like young people who fail to take vaccination seriously."
That's the encouraging part. What she says next is eye-opening.
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Corbett believes that COVID-19 will become a permanent part of life. Instead, she said, of the virus killing 600,000 people, it may kill 50,000 a year, and become more like the flu.
"Would you close a stadium for the flu?" she asked.
"The virus is here to stay," she said. "We are beyond the phase of elimination of the virus."
Corbett is the Shutzer Assistant Professor at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute. She's also the assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She previously worked at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Institutes of Health. She has a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina.
Corbett's entrance in the sports world comes at a time where large swaths of it embraces vaccines and the science. There are some trouble spots in the NFL, for example, but overall the league has done a far better job of embracing vaccinations than the rest of the country.
While so much is known about Corbett, and her accomplishments are numerous (not the least of which is helping to invent a lifesaving vaccine), her involvement in sports isn't generally known. That's because, for the most part, she has kept her involvement quiet.
Corbett said she's spoken to players and individual teams to address concerns about the coronavirus and the vaccine. Her talk with the Washington Football Team was supposed to remain secret but word eventually leaked. She also had a public conversation with Kareen Abdul-Jabbar.
Corbett explained she's spoken to "three professional teams and one very high-profile college football team" as well as individual athletes.
Corbett was asked how she deals with players who have vaccine hesitancy (which she calls "vaccine inquisitiveness"): "In the same way I deal with everyone else. I use empathy."
"One thing that sticks out is when I give lectures about the vaccine at universities, sometimes you lose people," she said, "because they already know the science. The athletes are really attentive and come to the table with really good questions."
"I'm also impressed by their tenderness," Corbett said. "I always get a question about their children. They really want to protect their children."
Overall, Corbett said when it comes to going to stadiums, each individual has to decide if it's worth the risk.
"What you're asking for is the risk assessment," she said. "Do you want to be in a stadium with people who may or may not be vaccinated? We assess our risks every day. That needs to happen in sports, too."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID vaccine expert Kizzmekia Corbett on crowds at sports stadiums