SPECIAL REPORT: Why won’t you get the jab? Ministers urging Premier League refuseniks to be role models and STOP falling for conspiracy theories as they still resist vaccination
- There are a large number of Premier League players sceptical about the vaccine
- Newcastle boss Steve Bruce said players are influenced by conspiracy theories
- Only a few top-flight players have revealed their Covid-19 vaccination status
- Government ministers believe players should lead by example and take it
Premier League players have been urged to break the silence over their vaccine status and set an example for young people to get the jab.
Managers including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Steve Bruce admit that a significant number of their squads have refused vaccination against Covid-19.
Newcastle’s Bruce said players were being influenced by conspiracy theories about the supposed risks of the vaccine and the motivation for its rollout.
There is still a reluctance among many Premier League players to get the Covid-19 vaccine
Other leading sides including Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton have seen their new season disrupted after players tested positive for the virus.
Only a very few top-flight players have revealed their Covid-19 vaccination status.
But Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has told The Mail on Sunday that footballers should fulfil their duty as role models for young people who are reluctant to get vaccinated.
‘The evidence is overwhelming that getting vaccinated is good for your own health and helps protect others,’ said Huddleston. ‘We therefore strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Sports stars are role models and particularly influential with young people.
‘I am really grateful for the many sports personalities who have leveraged their celebrity to encourage others to get the jab through campaigns and using their own social media platforms.
Steve Bruce admitted that many players in his Newcastle squad are influenced by conspiracies
‘There will be some people unable to get the jab but it is disappointing to hear there may be some sports stars able — but unwilling — to get vaccinated, perhaps due to misinformation online. We continue to work with social media companies to tackle anti-vax fake news.’
Nadhim Zahawi, the Vaccines Minister, underlined Huddleston’s message. ‘Footballers are great role models and it would be great if they encourage their fans to get protected with the vaccine,’ said Zahawi.
Concerns over the number of players who are refusing to get vaccinated have increased this weekend.
In Scotland, national clinical director Jason Leitch is meeting players, managers and medical staff at all 42 league clubs tomorrow to urge them to be double jabbed. The step was taken after the Daily Record reported that more than 100 players in Scotland have refused to be vaccinated.
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny admitted he is trying to change the minds of some of the players in his British-based squad before their World Cup qualifiers.
‘In England, the AstraZeneca vaccine has quite a long period between first and second, so a couple of players have been caught with the first one, and some players have decided not to get it,’ he said.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also knows some of his players who are not yet willing to get jabbed
Last October Kenny lost players who had been in close contact with someone who tested positive but anyone who is fully vaccinated would not need to isolate under current restrictions.
Asked if he was pushing for all his players to get the jab as a result, Kenny said: ‘Yes, ideally we’d want everyone vaccinated but the players have the right to make their own decisions.’
The Mail on Sunday asked all Premier League clubs about the vaccination status of their squads but none revealed details.
The newspaper put the same question to managers throughout the league pyramid in the past week and a significant number admitted some players had chosen not to be vaccinated.
These clubs included Middlesbrough, Millwall, Oldham, Bradford, Harrogate and Morecambe. Other clubs whose squads were not fully vaccinated included Hull, Luton, MK Dons and Cambridge.
Cardiff manager Mick McCarthy said: ‘I’d like to think everybody would want to have it, but not everybody does. I don’t know about all the conspiracy theories out there.
Ministers want players to get their jab done and show the way for their adoring supporters
‘Some think they are putting a chip into you and are then able to follow you all around. They can do that with your phone these days —and every one of them has a phone.
‘I had it and I couldn’t wait to get it. I didn’t want to be laid up with Covid. It doesn’t seem to affect the younger guys so much. It is their choice and we can’t make them have it. We’ve had a grown-up response to it, but while some have said yes, others have said no.’
Harrogate manager Simon Weaver said: ‘Not everybody has been vaccinated, but the number of players who have been is growing by the week. I don’t want to put players under undue pressure, but we have to tell them the truth of the medical findings because there are a lot of myths out there.
‘There are one or two players who are very sceptical about the vaccines, but we can only relay to them the information being given by the medical people and the overwhelming advice is that the vaccine should be taken. Covid is still a serious threat to people’s lives and it floored a number of our players.’
Bruce said ‘a lot’ of his Newcastle squad had not been jabbed, while Solskjaer revealed some Manchester United players had not been and were unsure about having it, even though goalkeeper Dean Henderson has struggled with the symptoms of long Covid.
The Premier League has welcomed full crowds back with their return so far a certain success
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith also admitted not all his squad have had the jab.
Premier League managers said their clubs were seeking to educate players on the vaccine and mostly encouraging them to have it but would not make it mandatory.
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira said: ‘What we did is talk about Covid to the players and explain what Covid is really and the impact it can have on themselves, family and other people around them. I don’t believe we can force players to [do it], but we can allow them to have all the information.’
West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady has warned some players would ‘inevitably’ refuse to get vaccinated even if it was mandatory.
Everton midfielder Fabian Delph has shared an anti-vaccine message on his Instagram while Dejan Lovren, the former Liverpool defender, has said nobody should be forced to be vaccinated.
Leon Legge, of Port Vale, and Bristol City striker Nahki Wells also shared anti-vaccine sentiments on social media.
Arsenal are among the clubs who have suffered on the pitch in-part due to Covid positives
Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock revealed most of his squad have not received a vaccination out of ‘personal choice’. ‘I don’t know where they’re getting their advice from but I think it’s the wrong advice,’ he said.
‘We are trying to get the lads to have injections. Obviously it’s important that everybody has two injections if they can. I just can’t see the logic in not having them. I think there will be some disruption to the season.’
Jonathan Van-Tam, the Government’s deputy chief medical officer, held a meeting with the Premier League captains’ group this month to clarify the benefits of the vaccine and address concerns about it.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told this newspaper last week that Van-Tam and the Government are continuing to work with football to get players vaccinated.
Dr Peter English, former chair of the BMA’s public health medicine committee, said players are ‘probably obsessed with their health and fitness so I can see how they might feel anxious but the benefits overwhelmingly are in favour of the vaccination.’
Vaccine hesitancy among young people has been a concern. A survey for the Office for National Statistics published this month found that nine per cent of 18 to 25-year-olds were reluctant to get the jab, as were 11 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds. Healthy teenagers in the latter age group received their first Covid jabs on August 6.
CLUB-BY-CLUB: WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT THE VACCINE
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were among four players who were ruled of the Premier League opener against Brentford after testing positive for Covid-19. Willian and Alex Runarsson were the other two.
Manager Dean Smith has admitted that ‘not everyone is vaccinated’. ‘We are certainly pushing to get everyone vaccinated,’ said Smith. ‘We have a dedicated medical person who is on the case. It is something we are certainly encouraging.’
The club said their youth players were taking up the offer of getting vaccinated at a Turf Moor pop-up site before the senior team’s match at home to Leeds today. Young fans are being encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity too.
Thomas Frank said the club have been emphasising players’ social duty to get the jab. ‘We all have a responsibility to do our best to fight this pandemic,’ he said. ‘We can do that by getting jabbed. That’s my advice. But everyone has their own choice.’
Manager Graham Potter, who lost a 48-year-old relative to the virus, said there was unease among players about the vaccine. Asked if players views were mixed, he replied, ‘Yeah, it’s not unanimous. There are concerns and it’s important that those concerns are addressed.’
Striker Romelu Lukaku says he is double-vaccinated, adding: ‘I have family members who are high-risk. As a player, it’s up to you. The only thing we can do is be careful around the general population because we have a lot of responsibilities.’
Manager Patrick Vieira has said the club are working hard to educate players but would not make vaccines mandatory. ’What we did at the club is talk about Covid and explain what Covid is really, and the impact it can have on themselves, family and other people around them,’ he said.
Midfielder Fabian Delph published a quote on Instagram sharing anti-vaccine sentiments. Manager Rafael Benitez said: ‘We know the issues with Covid. We have lots of players isolating and this is a problem for the team.’
Midfielder Thiago is another of the few players to express his support for the vaccination. ‘We are fortunate to have access to it,’ he said over the summer. ‘We have less risk in our profession, but the vaccine is a priority in the world.’
Midfielder and Euro 2020 star Kalvin Phillips showed his support for the jab by opening the vaccination centre at Elland Road while striker Patrick Bamford was praised by the city council for his positive messaging around Covid protocols.
Brendan Rodgers, who lost players for a period last season after they breached Covid regulations, has said getting vaccinated should be down to the players. ‘It’s a personal choice and it’s ultimately down to the individual,’ he said.
Pep Guardiola is hopeful that the club’s medical department will convince players to get jabbed. ‘The doctors can do it,’ he said. ‘The players have to know that it can protect them and the rest of society but nobody can obligate them to do it.’
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed vaccine hesistancy among his squad. ‘Some of them are already fully vaccinated, some are not sure,’ he said. ‘But we’re going to have a bigger session with them because it’s important that everyone knows what it’s about.’
Manager Daniel Farke says Premier League players are less likely to get jabs compared to their counterparts in his native German because they are under less societal pressure. ‘The social and political pressure here seems to me to be much less,’ he said.
‘A lot of our players who haven’t had the jab,’ said boss Steve Bruce. ‘It’s their prerogative. We’ve had two or three players really sick with Covid, so we’ve seen the severity of it first-hand. But there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there.’
Forward Theo Walcott recorded a video with the NHS after getting his second jab in which he urged others to do likewise. ‘I encourage everyone to take note and get their vaccinations when called upon,’ he said.
Nuno Espirito Santo said: ‘I respect all the personal choices – each and every one of us should decide – but I’m in favour of the vaccine and I would [encourage] all the players to get the vaccine.’
Xisco, the manager, repeated the sentiment of managers saying player should not be required to get vaccinated. ‘The only thing I can say is it’s a personal situation,’ he said. ‘In my case I’ve had the vaccine, it’s important, but it’s a personal decision.’
Winger Adama Traore was among the Spain squad who were vaccinated before European Championship over the summer. The club’s Under 23 squad had their summer schedule disrupted by coronavirus cases at scheduled opponents.
Vice-chairman Karren Brady said some players would still not get the jab if it was compulsory. ‘Some will still say “no way”.’ she said. ‘You can see why fit young people living in a bubble and being tested every few days are reluctant to have it.’
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