Covid: Why is the vaccine uptake in English football players lower than the national average?

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent explains the latest row brewing in the Premier League as Clubs disagree over how to tackle the rise in Covid cases

Unvaccinated players are thought to be one of the reasons behind football's coronavirus fixture crisis, which has seen scores of games cancelled ahead of the usually congested Christmas match schedule.

As a new wave of Omicron infections threatens to bring the season to a standstill, concerns have been raised that unvaccinated players could be causing disproportionate disruption to games, as they are required to isolate following contact with a positive Covid case.

Under government rules, anyone in England who is unvaccinated has to self-isolate after a positive contact but those who have been double-jabbed do not necessarily have to.

But with official information about inoculation rates rarely released, how big is football's Covid vaccine problem and what steps are being taken to try and combat it?

How many players who play in English leagues are vaccinated?

The latest vaccine data collated for November has shown that 75% of players across the English Football League (EFL) are either fully vaccinated, have had a single jab or intend to be vaccinated.

Double vaccinated players total 59%, 16% are set to get the jab, while 25% of players currently do not intend to get a vaccine, according to the EFL, which comprises the Championship, League One and League Two.

Across the UK, 89.3% of eligible people aged over 12 have had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and 81.5% have been double jabbed.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said getting vaccinated was “the socially responsible thing to do” after the EFL confirmed the figures on Thursday.

In October, the Premier League said that some 68% of players had been fully vaccinated, with 81% receiving their first dose. This means that up to almost a third of players are likely to have to wait until at least the end of January to receive their booster, as a significant number of second doses were not administered until October.

Why are so many players not getting jabbed?

Players need to be double-jabbed to receive the booster that gives increased protection against the new Omicron variant.

But it has been reported that some players have turned down the vaccine as they fear it will affect their health and performance over the short-term period.

Others may be anxious about potential vaccine side-effects.

Speaking after Euro 2020 finished earlier this year, England manager Gareth Southgate admitted he was worried about misinformation on social media convincing some footballers not to have the jab.

Echoing these concerns, Dr Wes Tensel, Rochdale's club doctor, has said some players have told him they do not want to feel unwell if there are any side effects, and miss out on being in the squad.

On Tuesday, he told BBC 5 Live Breakfast that vaccination rates at the League One club were "very poor", having revealed in October fewer than a quarter of players at Rochdale are double jabbed.

"I think one of the reasons is social media, the anti-vax stuff that's bandied around, and it does get passed around the changing room," Dr Tensel, who is a GP and also works in a vaccination clinic, said.

"Football changing rooms are different to most workplaces.

"They're all together, it's an echo chamber, so if one of the senior players or an influential person has seen something on social media and that's passed to somebody else, they're not necessarily likely to critically appraise where that's come from and they can end up going down a rabbit hole."

How do vaccination rates in English football compare to those in other sports?

Vaccination rates in English football are lower than a number of other sports and leagues in other countries.

In October, the Irish Rugby Football Union reported comparatively higher vaccination rates, as they revealed that 99.2% of Ireland's professional players and their coaching staff had received Covid-19 vaccinations.

Some 96% of England's international cricket players during the pandemic have been double jabbed, according to reports.

The NFL has said some 95% of their players are fully-vaccinated, with the help of high-profile athletes promoting the jab and tougher restrictions for unvaccinated players.

In the NFL, those who are unvaccinated are required to do a daily test.

What have football managers said about vaccine uptake?

Numerous Premier League managers have called on their players to get immunised, including Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta, Nuno Espirito Santo, Steve Bruce and Graham Potter.

Arteta, who himself contracted the virus at the start of the pandemic, accepts getting jabbed remains a very personal issue, but would encourage people to take up the vaccine.

“The doctor has done a really good job to try to explain to everyone – because culturally as well there are a lot of thoughts around it," the Arsenal boss said. “We just try to educate them to try to encourage them to make the decision, but first of all they have to believe in that.”

West Ham boss David Moyes. Credit: PA

Earlier this week, West Ham boss David Moyes said that any potential transfer target’s vaccination status may well play a part in whether or not he decides to sign them.

"I don’t know if it would necessarily be completely a thing that I wouldn’t sign a [unvaccinated] player but in the same breath I know that is such a big issue at the moment for the clubs."

"I would really like all the players vaccinated but everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we can only give them advice and then it’s up to the players to decide if they take it or not,” he told Football London.

In October, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said that "99%" of his players have been vaccinated and that he had not had to convince them to do so, adding that he was vaccinated to protect not just himself but also others around him.

Which players have decided against being jabbed and what reasons did they give?

In September, the Swiss football federation’s head of communications said Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka declined to be vaccinated against Covid-19, after it emerged he had tested positive for coronavirus.

“Granit Xhaka was not vaccinated,” the Swiss FA’s head of communications, Adrian Arnold, was quoted as saying.

“He’s a player who isn’t vaccinated. We left this up to each player. It’s a personal decision of each player – just like any other person in Switzerland. “We have issued a recommendation that everyone vaccinates. But he decided for himself personally. And it is also his right not to be vaccinated.”

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka leaves the pitch after being sent off during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium in Septmber. Credit: PA

Republic of Ireland and West Brom forward Callum Robinson has also said he would not be vaccinated - despite having had the virus twice.

But other players have called on fellow footballers to get the jab.

Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow is among those who has publicly urged fellow footballers to get the vaccine, after he was hospitalised with a serious bout of Covid-19 in July.

How badly has the footballing schedule been impacted by Covid so far?

The Premier League resisted calls to suspend all matches this weekend after postponing five fixtures due to coronavirus outbreaks.

However, managers will meet on Monday to discuss Covid protocols, ahead of a slew of festive fixtures.

Manchester United’s match against Brighton on Saturday was the first to be called off due to Covid-19 issues before a further four games followed suit.

Old Trafford Stadium, home of Manchester United. Credit: PA

Southampton’s game with Brentford, Crystal Palace’s visit to Watford, West Ham’s clash with Norwich, and Sunday’s meeting between Everton and Leicester at Goodison Park also need to be rearranged.

Only five Premier League games remain on this weekend - but this is subject to change.

By 11.30 on Friday morning, 16 matches across the Championship, League One and League Two this weekend had been postponed.

Bradford’s game away to Carlisle has become the latest League Two fixture to be postponed due to coronavirus.

Despite the increased transmission rate of the Omicron variant sweeping the country, the Premier League has opted against a complete break in action, with games at Aston Villa, Leeds, Wolves, Newcastle and Tottenham still scheduled to go ahead.

What has the Premier League advised clubs to do to prevent virus outbreaks? Last week, the Premier League advised its 20 clubs to return to emergency measures, as Boris Johnson's Plan B Covid measures were announced for England.

The protocols, which include social distancing and wearing masks in indoor areas, were brought in at the start of the season.

Some clubs with high vaccination rates had eased some of the measures but must now reimpose restrictions to help limit the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Covid passes are also required in England for any event with 10,000 or more attendees, whether indoors or outdoors, such as sports stadiums.

As part of enhanced guidance, the EFL said clubs will be expected to implement a daily screening programme of testing, subject to supply chain availability of Lateral Flow tests.

Any person with a positive test of symptoms will then be required to take a PCR test and isolate in line with government guidance.

A record 88,376 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, the highest number since the coronavirus pandemic began. The figure is almost 10,000 more than the previous record of 78,610 set on Wednesday.

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