NFL says it won’t 'cut in line' to get COVID vaccine for players and personnel

With COVID-19 infections reaching new heights across the country and the NFL again seeing its schedule shuffled due to the virus, the league’s top doctor said Wednesday that the NFL would not seek priority access to a vaccine if one comes available during the postseason.

That’s a significant stance by the NFL, given that virus infections could be at new peaks when the postseason begins in January — and also taking into account that the league has gone to great financial and testing lengths to keep its Super Bowl schedule on track.

The NFL says it won't cut in line to get COVID vaccines for players and personnel. (Isaac Brekken/AP Images for NFL)
The NFL says it won't cut in line to get COVID vaccines for players and personnel. (Isaac Brekken/AP Images for NFL)

The NFL’s chief medical officer Allen Sills said it is important that there is no appearance of the league jumping ahead of health and safety workers, as well as “at-risk” individuals, who are expected to be prioritized for a vaccine in the coming months.

“We want to obviously work with public health authorities both at the state and the federal level about the rollout of vaccines,” Sills said Wednesday. “We’ve said all along that we never want to do anything that hinders the public health effort. I think it is our understanding that healthcare workers and frontline workers are going to be first in line for those vaccines. It’s important to us that that happens and we are not seen as cutting in line, as it were.”

It was notable that Sills stopped short of saying that NFL players and personnel wouldn’t potentially be in line for a vaccine, instead noting that an “appropriate” timetable could factor into the equation.

Why won’t NFL go into a playoff bubble?

While it’s unknown when a vaccine will become available, some medical officials have said that dosing in the frontline healthcare ranks could begin as early as this month. That leaves open the possibility that if a vaccine becomes widely available for healthcare workers and others into late December — and if a vaccine becomes accessible to the general population into January — there might be a space for NFL players to see dosing availability before the Super Bowl in February.

That timeline, however, remains completely speculative.

“If it becomes appropriate for us to have vaccines available to players, coaches and staff, and doing so does not in any way hinder the supply that’s important for healthcare workers or other at-risk vulnerable populations, then certainly we would consider that,” Sills said. “But we are not in any way trying to campaign to cut in line, as it were, with regard to vaccine availability.”

If the league isn’t able to take part in the vaccine before or during the playoffs, at least one message has remained fairly consistent from the executive ranks: The NFL is going to prefer individual team “bubbling” — which is somewhat similar to the protocols being followed now by franchises — rather than a single-site, NBA-style bubble that would essentially seal up all of the league’s playoff teams. This comes despite the recent spate of infections inside the Baltimore Ravens, which pushed the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against the Pittsburgh Steelers all the way to Wednesday afternoon.

“We don’t see the bubble as I think [what] most of you refer to it as, where we’re all in one location and we’re isolating entirely,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday’s health and safety conference call. “We feel strongly that our protocols are working. As we’ve demonstrated over the last several weeks, we’re willing to adjust those protocols, adapt those protocols, take additional steps that we think might be meeting the environmental circumstances that we’re dealing with in our communities. But I don’t see us doing a bubble in the sense that I think a lot the media focuses on it.”

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