Report: NBA stars hesitant to appear in league's PSAs promoting COVID-19 vaccine

An NBA plan to promote COVID-19 vaccinations through sponsored public service announcements with many of the league's biggest stars has reportedly hit a snag.

Many of the league's top players are expressing apprehension toward promoting the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Among the reported factors behind the unenthusiastic response are uncertainty about taking the vaccine themselves, reluctance to push others to take it and lack of desire to do favors for a league that pushed for an All-Star Game against the wishes of many of its superstars.

The NBA has still done vaccine PSAs, but with Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rather than any active players. The hope is that those players' endorsement would be much more impactful in Black communities that have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

NBA players concerned about vaccine's impact on performance

The NBA logo at center court is shown during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
NBA players aren't enthusiastic about endorsing the COVID-19 vaccine. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Amid the push for the PSAs, the league has reportedly instituted mandatory team seminars with Dr. Leroy Sims, the NBA's senior vice president of medical affairs, with the goal of educating players on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Sims reportedly told ESPN that he has already completed 20 presentations to teams, and expects to have met virtually with all 30 teams by Monday. The presentations reportedly emphasize the data and science behind the vaccine, and the potential good that can be done by endorsing its use.

The reception to the presentations so far has apparently been solid, even as Sims pushes against misinformation about the vaccine.

From ESPN:

"I've tried to tackle misinformation — that the development process was rushed, that the vaccine can alter genetics, that the trials lacked diversity," Sims said. "I get the question of: 'If I get this shot, is it going to impact my performance?' I walked them through what the results were, about the different types of vaccine, and I conclude with the benefits of the vaccination.

"I can tell you these guys are listening based on questions that I'm getting. They also ask: 'Why should we get this when there hasn't been a whole lot of time to see what the long-term effects are?' These guys look at data all the time. I know they get the data, and appeal to them at that level.

"When it comes to vaccinations, any long-term [issues] with vaccinations, you historically tend to see in the first couple of months. Shots started going into people's arms in March of last year, so we have a trove of data already and we're continuing to gather it.

NBA players mirror Black community in skepticism

NBA superstars being skeptical of the vaccine isn't much of an aberration from the overall response of the Black community.

A poll in December found that only 42 percent of Black Americans said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, compared to 63 percent of Hispanic adults, 61 percent of white adults and 83 percent of Asian Americans. That's despite 71 percent of Black respondents in the same poll saying they know someone who has been hospitalized or died from the coronavirus, higher than all of the other groups.

There are plenty of factors behind that apprehension, not the least of which is a brutal history of medical abuse against the Black community. Still, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has spoken of the importance of improving acceptance of the vaccine.

From ESPN:

"In the African American community, there's been enormously disparate impact from COVID ... but now, somewhat perversely, there's been enormous resistance [to vaccinations] in the African American community for understandable historical reasons," Silver said recently. "If that resistance continues, it would be very much a double whammy to the Black community, because the only way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated."

Silver has reportedly told general managers that teams could be incentivized to take the vaccine by the loosening of quarantine and testing protocols.

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