TAMPA, Fla (Reuters) – NFL Chief Medical Director Allen Sills said the league was in “active discussions” with its players’ association over whether to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for players and staff, as well as what role it would take in coordinating inoculations.
There were 262 COVID-19 cases among players and 463 among personnel detected between August 1 and the end of January, out of more than 950,000 COVID-19 tests administered, causing several schedule delays but no outright cancellations during the season.
Asked whether the league would require vaccination when players and staff become eligible, Sills said it was too soon to say.
“As it becomes our turn, if you will, I think that we will certainly have those conversations, and we will make sure whether it’s players, coaches, staff, everyone that’s eligible and enabled to be vaccinated has that opportunity,” he told reporters.
Like Major League Baseball (MLB), the NFL has said it has no plans to cut the line to get its players early access to vaccines, which are being rolled out in phases across the United States, with frontline workers and vulnerable populations getting priority.
“These vaccines are incredibly safe. They are amazingly effective,” said Sills.
The NFL closes out its season Sunday, with a matchup between the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Mask-wearing, social distancing and other safety measures will be in place inside Raymond James Stadium, where a limited crowd of 22,000 attendees will include 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers who were given free tickets.
“Part of the reason… that we have these 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers here in Tampa (is) because we want to highlight how important we think it is, while we also thank them for their service over the course of the past year,” said Sills.
Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Edwina Gibbs