17 of 32 NFL Teams Have Vaccinated 95% of Players as Season Begins

By Angelica LaVito | September 9, 2021

Seventeen of the National Football League’s 32 teams have vaccinated 95% of their players against the coronavirus, according to league officials, with a new season set to begin this week.

Two teams — the Atlanta Falcons and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers — have reached immunization rates of 100%. Overall, 93.5% of the NFL’s 2,208 players have received shots, and more are rolling their sleeves up every day, Chief Medical Officer Allen Sillis said in an interview Wednesday.

Such vaccination levels are substantially higher than the U.S. public at large. Roughly 73% of Americans age 12 or older have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The league’s success in getting the vast majority of its high-profile workforce vaccinated comes as many other large employers are considering whether to make immunizations mandatory, and how to manage interaction between those workers who have received shots and those who haven’t.

“I don’t think anyone gets shouted into belief or into accepting a vaccine, so I think it’s about having thoughtful conversations, addressing concerns and reviewing the data,” Sillis said, adding that the NFL will share data it collects and other evidence of the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

The NFL won’t mandate vaccination for players, Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a separate interview Wednesday. Coaches and personnel are required to get a shot, resulting in more than 99% coverage, he said.

The season is scheduled to begin Thursday evening when the Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys in Tampa, Florida.

Vaccinated players are tested weekly and unvaccinated players are screened for infection daily as part of the Covid protocols the league developed for the season. The NFL is averaging more than 1,000 tests a day between surveillance screening and targeted tests, such as for immunized players who were exposed to the virus, according to league officials.

Last year, the NFL typically conducted 6,000 to 7,000 tests a day, said Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of health and safety.

Unvaccinated players were four times as likely to test positive when they reported for training camp, Sillis said. He expects that gap to narrow during the season because players who haven’t yet received a shot will be among a heavily immunized population.

Blunted Breakthroughs

Despite the NFL’s success, new cases are still emerging in the league. Almost all infections are the delta variant, Sillis said, adding that the NFL sequences every case. An outbreak among the Tennessee Titans infected even the team’s vaccinated coach. Infections among vaccinated personnel so far appear to be milder and shorter, Sillis said.

Sillis said that breakthrough cases so far aren’t causing large outbreaks among players and personnel, suggesting that vaccinated people who test positive aren’t transmitting the virus.

The league regularly shares its findings with public-health officials, including the CDC. A case study of the protocols the NFL implemented last season was published in January in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The NFL decided that players who were previously infected with the coronavirus only needed one Covid shot, a policy that’s been debated in the U.S. but hasn’t been adopted more widely. About 60 players fall in this category, which Sillis called an “instructive and informative group to track.”

–With assistance from Scott Moritz.

Photo: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field before Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.

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