By Staff Writer Naveed Shakoor
With the 2021 Tokyo Olympics set for July 23, the question of whether or not elite athletes should be vaccinated over the more susceptible frontline workers and elderly has become a hot topic for debate. Several countries, including Israel, Hungary, and Serbia, have already begun vaccinating hundreds of their athletes to prepare them for training, travel, and competition. However, considering the current shortage of the vaccine, this is the wrong decision — the US should not prioritize vaccinating Olympic and other professional athletes.
When the pandemic first began, the US government dismissed the potential harm of the coronavirus by assuring citizens that it was comparable to the seasonal flu and not an urgent threat. This misinformation led many people to ignore safety precautions like wearing masks and quarantining. Now, in light of an approved vaccine, these same skeptics are doubting its purpose and effectiveness. This is where many believe professional athletes can help. People in favor of athletes getting vaccinated early argue that impressionable fan bases may have a change of perspective watching their idols endorse something that they were initially questioning.
Although these “anti-vaxxers” do not believe in taking the vaccine, they will more than likely be required to take it to return to their daily lives. And even if athletes were able to sway their fans, does it really make sense for the US to give priority to healthy 20 or 30-year-olds over essential workers and the elderly? The U.S Department of Homeland Security classifies essential workers as “those who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure operations.” What do athletes provide? Entertainment. It’s not that athletes are not important, but compared to teachers, firefighters, and police officers in a country where more than three million people have died in the last year — their jobs are secondary. The difference between essential workers and athletes is that life does not go on without them. We need teachers because they provide students with the building blocks of achieving success in their adult life, while firefighters and police officers ensure the safety of our community. In comparison, sports are a form of quick amusement; one merely gains a feeling of satisfaction. It is downright unfair to allow athletes to skip the line.
Furthermore, the total number of vaccines that are available to the US is already insufficient. The US population consists of 332.3 million people, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only around 65.0 million of the 300 million vaccines promised by President Joe Biden have been administered. Vaccine rollout plans have been slower than expected and according to Healthline, “these vaccines involve new distribution, storage, and administration protocols that sites need to get up to speed on.” On top of that, The COVID Tracking Project currently counts 55,403 people hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout the nation, which is where most of the vaccines are being distributed.
And while many await the vaccine, athletes have the advantage of access to top-notch healthcare and frequent testing. According to Statista, a database company, between the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL — the biggest sports leagues in North America — a player’s median salary in 2020 was about $4 million, making medical treatment easily accessible for them. This is a reality that not many can relate to, especially for those in need of financial aid and easy access to healthcare. Additionally, leagues like the NBA have mandated point-of-care rapid testing with 30-minute results prior to each game, minimizing any possible spread of the virus. There’s no reason to give athletes any more privilege than they already have in the healthcare industry.
By vaccinating athletes earlier than those in greater need, we’re putting essential workers in danger. Athletes are able to continue their jobs with a low risk of getting COVID-19 while essential workers’ jobs require them to come in contact with many strangers every day, making them highly vulnerable. It is unethical to put young and healthy people before workers and elders whose lives are more at stake. Athletes must wait for their turn.
*All mentioned statistics were accurate at the time of publication.