The Washington Post

Vaccine researcher counters skepticism for WFT


As the NFL pushes for an air of normalcy after a season altered by the coronaviru­s pandemic, the Washington Football Team took an additional step to provide more informatio­n to players and improve their vaccinatio­n rate.

The team arranged for Kizzmekia S. Corbett, an immunologi­st and leading coronaviru­s vaccine researcher, to speak to players and coaches via video conference Tuesday to provide general informatio­n about the vaccines, answer questions and dispel any inaccuraci­es they might have heard.

“We’re trying to gather as much informatio­n, allow the players to get as much informatio­n so they can make a choice and make a decision,” Coach Ron Rivera told reporters Wednesday after the team’s second day of minicamp. “. . . She was outstandin­g. Our players were engaged and asked a lot of good questions, and off of that we had several guys that are getting vaccinated or have gotten vaccinated because of that.”

Corbett, a viral immunologi­st and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center of the National

Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was part of a team that was instrument­al in helping to develop the Moderna vaccine.

Rivera initiated Corbett’s discussion with players and coaches because “there’s a lot of messaging that they get off of Twitter, and some of it’s good, some of it’s bad.”

“I’m not sure if these guys watch the news as much as I do and try to gather as much informatio­n, so we’re really trying to help them,” he said. “Because, again, if we can get to herd immunity, we can really cut loose and really be able to spend time with each other.”

Rivera said all of Washington’s football operations and coaching staff and nearly 50 percent of its players have been inoculated.

“I know myself and all these other guys were exposed to what you might call fake news or just rumors on social media about the vaccines and maybe conspiraci­es and stuff like that,” rookie wide receiver Dax Milne said. “I know I’ve heard a lot of conversati­ons. . . . Some guys are obviously for it — getting the vaccine. Some guys still have a little bit of hesitancy. But personally, it was good to hear the real facts, and I plan on seeing a lot more people getting the vaccine on the team.”

The conversati­on with Corbett, Milne said, dispelled some misconcept­ions they might have previously had about the vaccines.

“I’ve heard that there’s been deaths from the vaccines and a lot of other side effects, and she explained that there’s a lot of fake articles and stuff like that but that when it gets down to the real facts and the actual studies that they’ve done, with real informatio­n, there’s been no deaths from it,” Milne said. “I don’t want to speak out of turn, but it sounded a lot more safe than we all thought it was. I think we’re feeling a lot more comfortabl­e with it now.”

But not all are in favor of the vaccines or the team’s efforts to encourage players to get vaccinated.

“I’m not a fan of it,” Washington defensive end Montez Sweat said. “I probably won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff. I’m not a fan of it at all.”

Sweat said he’s hesitant because he hasn’t had the coronaviru­s and, although the vaccine is a preventive measure, he doesn’t see a need to “treat covid” before he’s had it.

After Tuesday’s conversati­on with Corbett, Rivera said, some players proceeded to schedule their vaccines.

“It’s always good to learn new knowledge about whatever we got going on in the world, especially because we’re a little sheltered in our football world,” said second-year offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles, who added that he has been vaccinated. “Learning new stuff like that — I learned plenty of stuff yesterday about the vaccine that I had never heard, so it was good to hear.”

As of Wednesday, close to 42.3 percent of the general population in the United States has been fully vaccinated, meaning they’re two weeks removed from receiving their second of two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Approximat­ely 52 percent of the population is at least partially vaccinated.

But as daily vaccinatio­n rates drop, some experts have said that herd immunity from the coronaviru­s may not be attainable and that the label itself can be misleading.

“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” Anthony S. Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, recently said. “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense. I’m saying:

Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.”

The NFL and NFL Players Associatio­n have not set a vaccinatio­n threshold that would allow a team to relax covid-related protocols almost entirely, and they have not mandated players and coaches receive the vaccine. But they have agreed on new, less stringent protocols for players who have been fully vaccinated.

Instead of the daily testing and mask requiremen­ts still in place for Tier 1 and 2 staffers who are not vaccinated, inoculated players can roam facilities without any face coverings, will undergo testing only once a week and will not be subject to contact-tracing quarantine­s or travel restrictio­ns.

Unvaccinat­ed players must still undergo daily testing, wear masks, adhere to weight-room capacity limits and be subject to contact-tracing quarantine policies. As of June 7, unvaccinat­ed coaches and staff members will not be permitted to interact with players in person or travel.

“It’s a choice. They’ve got to make a choice,” Rivera said. “We’re trying to stress the fact that if we can get to herd immunity we’ll really be able to get out there and enjoy things, so hopefully that’ll happen.”

 ?? JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Coach Ron Rivera hopes an immunologi­st’s answers will increase Washington’s vaccinatio­n rate.
JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST Coach Ron Rivera hopes an immunologi­st’s answers will increase Washington’s vaccinatio­n rate.
 ?? JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Defensive end Matthew Ioannidis, second from right, hits a blocking sled Wednesday during Washington’s minicamp in Ashburn.
JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST Defensive end Matthew Ioannidis, second from right, hits a blocking sled Wednesday during Washington’s minicamp in Ashburn.

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