Why am I not surprised to learn this?
Two weeks before summer training begins and less than two months before fall camp opens, dozens of college football teams are struggling to vaccinate their athletes. Similar to the country’s regional discrepancy in COVID-19 protocols, the U.S. is a fractured mess as it relates to the vaccine. And that goes for universities as well.
Some, such as Ohio State, Notre Dame and Navy, have at least 90% of their football team vaccinated. Others, like Clemson, Charlotte and Ole Miss, are below the 20% mark. And then there are those like Tennessee, Oregon State and Troy, hovering around 50–60%.
While administrators expect a surge of vaccinations when players return to campus in June, many of them fear that athletes will continue to eschew the shots for some of the same reasons as those in the general population—religious beliefs, conspiracy theories and misplaced guidance from others.
“The low vaccination rates are worrisome,” says one ACC school administrator who asked for anonymity. “I’m battling trying to figure out how to normalize this vaccine.”
This is a bigger deal than you might think, because of the logistics.
Though college-age people often experience little to no ill effects from COVID-19, vaccinations are imperative, NCAA medical experts say. They clear a path back to normalcy. A team reaching enough vaccinations will likely avoid the coronavirus protocols and disruptions that marked the 2020 season.
In fact, officials expect a different set of protocols for those vaccinated and unvaccinated. Players choosing not to vaccinate will find themselves subject to contact-tracing and quarantine rules—the biggest disrupter of 2020—as well as regular testing. Those vaccinated will be exempt from such. In short, COVID-19 outbreaks on or around a team will likely affect only unvaccinated players and staff.
As the article notes, at Clemson, the Tigers are only at a 10% vaccination level. And the meter is running.
“The two-shot vaccines take six weeks to be fully effective,” says Jeff Dugas, Troy’s team doctor and an orthopedic surgeon in Birmingham who chairs the Sun Belt’s COVID-19 advisory panel. “They need to be vaccinated by mid-June. They’ve got five weeks before they need to have the first shot.”
I have to believe Dabo is going to move heaven and earth to hammer that number. But what happens if he can’t move the needle sufficiently? How will that impact Clemson’s approach to the opener with Georgia? Beats me, but I’ll be watching to see.