The reality of life without the Covid jab is finally dawning on Premier League footballers.
A bespoke message from deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam is due to drop into their inboxes this week urging them to get vaccinated, and club medics are reporting a slow but steady uptake among previously reluctant players.
The prospect of being unable to attend nightclubs next month without a vaccine passport is a powerful incentive for many, while increasingly complex travel arrangements are also pushing them to get the jab.
Premier League footballers are now starting to get their Covid jabs as they want to go clubbing
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Since July, players have worn coloured lanyards or wristbands in team facilities according to vaccine status.
Unvaccinated players must wear masks and be tested every day; vaccinated players are tested weekly. Breaches incur heavy fines.
Upon a Covid outbreak, vaccinated players who test positive can return after two negative tests 24 hours apart. Unvaccinated players must remain in isolation for 10 days – possibly missing two games.
If a game cannot be played nor rescheduled due to a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game. Neither team will be paid.
17 of 32 teams are 95 per cent jabbed. The Atlanta Falcons and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 100 per cent vaccinated.
One group of players travelling internationally last week had to endure a 5am start at an airport because five of the squad had not been immunised and therefore had to undergo a PCR test on landing at the nation where they were playing.
It meant an earlier flight and waiting time at the destination airport, with the whole squad inconvenienced by the five.
Unvaccinated players face peer pressure, with more flights coming this week for clubs in the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.
‘The international travel restrictions mean it’s beginning to dawn on some of the players just how complicated it is to move around without having been vaccinated,’ said one club medic.
‘That, and the restrictions on their social lives which are coming in October mean that we are seeing some of the players who have not got round to it now being vaccinated.’
Van-Tam, a Boston United season-ticket holder, has been a key influencer in football circles, meeting with Premier League captains last year to guide them through the safety procedures of returning to play and helping to dispel myths in the summer of 2020.
He also met black and Asian players to better explain the risks of Covid to ethnic minorities and to reassure them, which was crucial in ensuring a smooth return to play in the Premier League.
In a video designed for fans, Van-Tam says: ‘I’m a massive football fan. I’m absolutely delighted to be back in the grounds watching games again this season. But we’ve got to face facts, haven’t we? Covid hasn’t gone away.’
A bespoke message from Jonathan Van-Tam urging players to get vaccinated will be sent out
Granit Xhaka has refused to take his jabs and tested positive recently, forcing him to isolate
Get your two doses of the vaccine ✅
Stay home and get a test if you’re showing any symptoms 🏠
Take a face mask with you 😷
Arrive early 🕑
Wash your hands regularly 🧼
Jonathan Van-Tam on how football fans can do their bit to stay safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/ejXCIuzBNs
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 10, 2021
He goes on to explain how fans should try to get to games a few minutes early to save on queues, attempt to avoid busy routes and never attend matches if they have any Covid symptoms, even if they have been inoculated.
Crucially though the key message to stay safe for fans is to be vaccinated. ‘If you are going to go to the game, remember that the best way you can protect yourself and other people is to get two doses of the vaccine,’ says Van-Tam. ‘It genuinely reduces your chance of getting the virus and of being hospitalised or dying.’
That message will be reinforced in the video to players, which goes out this week and which is designed to influence the significant minority yet to be jabbed.
Newcastle keeper Karl Darlow, who contracted Covid days before he was about to receive his first vaccination, spoke last week on the BBC about how seriously ill he became.
Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow contracted Covid before his jab and became seriously ill
His experience has convinced many team-mates to get protected but he added: ‘We’ve still got four or five lads that haven’t had [the jab]. People have their own reasons for either health issues, religious reasons and different things.’
Van-Tam’s video is expected to emphasise that even if there is a lower risk of dying among young, fit players, the illness can still be serious, as Darlow and Chester co-manager Anthony Johnson, 38, have experienced. And that the effects of long Covid are unknown.
Darlow said: ‘I ended up driving myself into hospital about 11 or 12 o’clock at night, just so I could get hydrated, because I wasn’t able to swallow with my glands so swollen. I was severely worried.
‘I knew that if I could get in and get on a drip and get the food and water into myself I’d be OK. But there’s always a thing in the back of your mind that if it gets into your breathing then you are in serious trouble.
Mikel Arteta has spoken about the difficulty of convincing players to get their vaccinations
‘I think seeing how I was probably convinced them to go and get it done. Sometimes it’s hard to convince or go into deep conversation with your team-mates about getting vaccinated if they have a very good reason, and you can’t force it upon people.’
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, whose season’s start has been disrupted by Covid, has spoken about the difficulty in convincing players after it was revealed that Granit Xhaka had caught Covid and hadn’t had the vaccine.
‘We are trying to explain all the reasons why we believe it’s the right thing to do,’ said Arteta. ‘How much it will protect first of all the club, second of all the team-mates and the environment they’re around. The exposure around if they don’t do it. At the end it’s a really personal thing.’