NFL Says It Won't Barge Ahead of Frontline Workers, High-Risk People to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Illustration for article titled NFL Says It Won't Barge Ahead of Frontline Workers, High-Risk People to Get COVID-19 Vaccine
Photo: Chris Carlson (AP)

The National Football League says it doesn’t expect to get—and will not ask for—preferential treatment when it comes to taking the COVID-19 vaccine.


As the Associated Press reports, representatives from the NFL’s players union and the league said they would not be jumping ahead of high-priority patients in order to get the vaccine.

“No one should be thinking about the vaccine going anywhere other than our first responders and the most vulnerable people right now,” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, told the AP.

“Football is not an essential business,” he continued. “While JC [Tretter] and I have a fiduciary duty to our players, I don’t think either of us for a nanosecond forgets that we’re fortunate enough to be playing a game while millions of people are out there trying to keep up safe, and that’s where the focus should be.”

Smith’s comments were backed up by the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills.

“We’re in complete harmony with the union in that we feel that it’s vital that frontline healthcare workers and other essential service workers are at the front of the line,” said Sills.

The statements come after months of professional and amateur sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA and NCAA, having routine access to COVID testing that many essential workers still don’t have. In a report earlier this month from the Washington Post, San Francisco-based emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval, who has regularly treated patients infected by the coronavirus over the last nine months, noted that her employer, California Pacific Medical Center, has refused to provide testing for medical staff—even those who had possibly been exposed to the virus.


The United States’ largest nursing union, National Nurses United, released a survey in November that made clear Sandoval wasn’t unique: two-thirds of the union’s 15,000 members said they had never been tested for the deadly virus.

This has not been true of the nation’s top athletes, whose leagues have contracted with private labs for tests that provide faster, more accurate results than most Americans can access. According to the Post, within a one week span in November, the NFL conducted more than 43,000 tests for players, coaches and staffers.


This disparity won’t be true for the vaccine, the NFL pledges. And thus far, as the United States embarks on what the AP dubs “the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history,” healthcare workers and vulnerable patients have been at the front of the line.

This includes nurses and elderly nursing home residents, who are currently top priority for vaccine distribution here and abroad. According to the AP, government officials hope that two approved vaccines will be given to 20 million high-risk Americans by the end of the year, with another 30 million in January. The “average” person likely won’t have an opportunity to take the vaccine until next spring.


Regardless of the timeline, the NFL says it’s going along with what public health experts have determined is the most effective, fair way to distribute the vaccine.

“The rollout of the vaccine is going to be driven by public health concerns and what medical and government officials determine to be the most efficacious for risk reduction across society as a whole,” said Dr. Sills. “We’re prepared to support that effort.”

Staff writer, The Root.