Clarification of the SEC’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage for faculty soccer 2021
LAFAYETTE, LA. – Louisiana’s manager Billy Napier reviewed his soccer team’s injury report during a staff meeting in June. He reminded his coaching staff of recruiting priorities and talked about the team’s physical fitness.
Then he prepared an exploratory report from Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist.
O’Neal, the chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was scheduled to conduct a Q&A at City Hall that day with UL players and coaches who were not vaccinated against COVID had been. 19th
O’Neal has provided vaccine training for Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, and Texas A&M within the SEC, as well as for schools outside of the conference such as Louisiana.
Crimson Tide vaccination rates skyrocketed after O’Neal hosted a session for Alabama, an Alabama official told Napier.
O’Neal town halls epitomize the SEC’s approach to COVID-19 vaccination. The SEC’s medical task force recommends athletes and coaches get vaccinated, and conference members have conducted vaccination training.
“I think everyone needs to feel informed,” said O’Neal, a member of the SEC’s medical task force and assistant professor of clinical medicine at LSU’s medical school in New Orleans.
“Being in the dark is not a pleasant place to be in a pandemic, and if we can make everyone feel a little better informed about what’s out there and what it means to them, then I have my goal achieved accomplished. “
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Vanderbilt, the SEC’s only private institution, is the only conference member to vaccinate athletes for the 2021-22 school year. Exceptions can be requested for medical or religious reasons. Vanderbilt’s mandate is not specific to athletes. It applies to the student body, the faculty and the staff.
What the vaccine means for the SEC football season
This time, last summer, the college football season was in limbo.
O’Neal described the availability of the vaccine ahead of the 2021 season as “relieving because if you want protection, we have protection for you”.
“Everyone eligible for the vaccine should get the vaccine,” she said.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told USA TODAY Network in April that the conference will take a three-pronged approach to the vaccine:
- While not a mandate, the SEC’s medical task force recommends that athletes get vaccinated
- Conference members offer vaccination training
- Conference guidelines make it easier for vaccinated athletes to stay on the field
This last prong in particular could prove to be convincing.
Last fall, the number of players quarantined due to contact tracing became the biggest hurdle to continuing the season without a break amid the pandemic.
Some games had to be postponed because at least one of the teams involved had too many lost players due to quarantine. An athlete was quarantined for 14 days if he had high-risk contact with someone infected with the virus. A negative COVID-19 test has neither negated nor shortened the quarantine.
According to SEC policy, fully vaccinated individuals who are asymptomatic do not need to be quarantined after exposure to someone infected with the virus. Also, fully vaccinated athletes and employees can perform masks-free activities in sports facilities, and people who are fully vaccinated will not need to continue COVID-19 surveillance tests.
“We hope to have a very successful season this year without many stops and starts, and we believe vaccinations are part of that,” said O’Neal.
Also, if a team is at least 85% vaccinated, they can stop surveillance testing for everyone in the program. This is also the percentage threshold for the entire team to stop masking in facilities regardless of vaccination status.
Alabama’s coach Nick Saban told reporters ahead of his June 3 golf excursion that his team was on the verge of hitting the 85% rate.
“We had a pretty good response,” said Saban then. “We had some really good training sessions for the players so they could make good and intelligent decisions about what to do and what not to do.”
SEC schools oppose transparency about vaccination rates for athletes
Saban’s comment provided rare public insights into a team’s vaccination rate.
Most SEC institutions are not publicly transparent about athletes’ vaccination rates. In May, the USA TODAY Network requested each SEC school to provide an approximate vaccination rate for their football program and the entire athlete population.
Arkansas was the only conference member who provided information on athletes’ vaccination rates. By May 21, about 65 to 70% of athletes in Arkansas had been vaccinated, according to the school, with the rate being higher for spring sports teams.
Several SEC schools answered other questions about vaccinations, including how education is provided to athletes. Florida, Ole Miss, and Tennessee did not provide any information about the sports department’s approach to the vaccine.
Some schools used their athletics platforms to help the public vaccinate
LSU has partnered with Our Lady of the Lake to host vaccination clinics outside of their ballpark and to offer a free baseball ticket to those who received the vaccine. In addition, the LSU football stadium was used as a vaccination site in May. Vanderbilt Athletics partnered with Vanderbilt Health to hold a vaccination event before a baseball game. South Carolina was running drive-through vaccinations near the soccer stadium parking lot and in the basketball arena.
The soccer coach is the most famous personality for many SEC schools. Saban, who is vaccinated, publicly advocated the vaccination.
Along with Saban, the football head coaches in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, and Texas A&M are fully vaccinated, which has been confirmed either by the school or publicly by the coach.
The soccer coach’s vaccination status at the SEC’s other six schools remains publicly unclear, with those schools either refusing or not responding.
What athlete Dr. Ask Catherine O’Neal
O’Neal said the most common vaccination questions from athletes reflect what they hear from the public, including questions about side effects and whether the vaccine is affecting fertility.
She said she informed athletes that the most common side effects are injection site pain, fatigue, sore muscles and fever, and that these side effects are “very short-lived, 24 to 48 hours in most people.”
Regarding the second frequently asked question, O’Neal said that “absolutely no concrete data” suggests that “this vaccine is deleteriously affecting fertility”. The CDC states on its website that there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes female or male fertility problems.
“Nothing about this vaccine was of concern from a fertility standpoint,” said O’Neal. “In fact, it looks like you should get vaccinated from a reproductive health standpoint.”
A self-proclaimed “teacher at heart,” O’Neal plans to continue offering vaccination training to help people, including college athletes, make informed decisions.
“Vaccination is our only way out (of this pandemic),” said O’Neal, “and I think the virus proves that.”
Blake Toppmeyer is a SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you like Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that gives you access to everything.