Eric Stinton: Of course, sports students should have to be vaccinated
August 9, 2021
Last week, the Ministry of Education announced it would postpone the start of fall sports and vaccinate all student athletes, sports staff and volunteers. The announcement came when students began full face-to-face learning for the first time in 18 months and the number of daily COVID-19 cases continued to rise.
The decision sparked the usual backlash of genuine disappointment, exhausted frustration, and reactionary outrage. It’s a lot easier to sympathize with the first two.
Competition is an important experience for many people, and I’m not playing down how life changing it can really be. Sport can push us to our physical and mental limits; You tend to learn a lot about yourself when your heart is beating and your legs are on fire and a team, school, or community is putting its hopes in you. You will learn to become aware of how your actions can affect others around you, a lesson that is desperately needed now.
For most people, high school is the highest level of competitive sport they can participate in. Having shortened the final seasons of local athletes in the final school year – and the previous school year if they did sports in the spring – this is not difficult to understand and to regret with the impatience and fear that many people feel.
Then there is the reactionary posing that thrives online, taking on all the usual nasty arguments: “A vaccination mandate violates my rights” or “Vaccines are just as dangerous as COVID”. Let’s examine these claims.
A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the vast majority of new COVID cases were among the unvaccinated. More than 166 million Americans are fully vaccinated and another 28 million are partially vaccinated. So far, side effects have been incredibly rare: a total of 716 reports of heart infections; 143 reports of temporary or permanent nerve damage; and 41 reports of blood clotting. Around two to five people per million have severe allergic reactions that can be treated locally. And although 6,490 post-vaccination deaths have been reported, that number includes all post-vaccination deaths, even if the vaccine was not identified as the cause.
Compare that to over 616,000 deaths in nearly 36 million cases of COVID. That’s 95 times more deaths related to COVID compared to deaths related to any of the COVID vaccines, even though the number of COVID cases is about a tenth of the vaccine doses given. COVID has killed a lot more people with a lot fewer options, not to mention the long-term risk of heart problems, even among young and healthy populations.
The DOE’s job is to make sport as safe as possible for students. The data clearly shows that vaccination is much safer than getting COVID-19, and exercise increases the risk of exposure.
With a few exceptions, most sports either require prolonged and close physical contact with other players or take place in poorly ventilated gyms. The likelihood of virus transmission is significantly higher under these circumstances; I can’t think of a more comfortable arena for COVID than the line of scrimmage in a soccer game, where linemen are inches from each other’s faces and grunt, scream and sweat.
You could advocate exempting some sports like tennis or golf from compulsory vaccination, but the problem at this point is logistical: it’s difficult to handle a situation like this on a granular basis for each sport, especially with so many athletes in Do more than one sport in high school. It is both the simplest and most thorough solution to require vaccination of all student athletes.
It’s hard to take seriously those who argue that vaccination mandates are a violation of individual freedom and rights. Not only the DOE has been demanding numerous vaccinations for years in order to do sports – including against hepatitis, HPV, polio and chickenpox – the concept of freedom is incredibly flimsy in this context.
When you have public life outside of your home – which the student-athletes in question do since they are in school – your actions are affecting other people. It’s not always intentional or something we’re aware of, but it happens because we share living spaces with one another.
People have always confused freedom with entitlement, but freedom doesn’t mean being able to do what you feel like. For example, it is not a violation of freedom to legally require people to go to certain places to use the toilet. There are rules that you must follow to ensure the health and safety of other people, even if it means you can’t do some things that you might want to do. True freedom can only be built on the basis of responsibility towards others.
Despite a deeply cynical appropriation of the “my body, my choice” slogan for abortion, the consequences of vaccination go beyond your body and can directly affect the bodies of many others around you. Nobody has the right to increase other people’s risk of illness. That is intuitive, but also constitutional. Vaccination regulations have been implemented and adhered to for over a century.
All of this doesn’t mention that if you have a legitimate reason not to get vaccinated, you don’t need to be vaccinated and you can still exercise – as long as you get tested regularly.
What is lost in all the clamor on social media is that the need for vaccines is the tradeoff. The safest and most sensible thing to do is to cancel the sport. Instead, the DOE has provided several ways to minimize risk so that the seasons can continue as planned. Seems reasonable to me.
Vaccines have their limits. Fully vaccinated people can still get infected and spread the virus to others. But the data we have shows that the severity of infection is greatly reduced in vaccinated populations. Even if that is the only benefit, it is still reason enough to need vaccines.
My feeling is that much of the resentment towards mandatory vaccines is a proxy for resentment towards visitors. I can understand: It’s frustrating to have the feeling that residents have to obey more rules than tourists, even though there are more tourists than residents each year. I’m on board with the idea of ââmaking full vaccination mandatory for all visitors. We’re seeing a surge, so why not make the same demands on tourists for our student athletes?
This situation sucks and my heart goes out to the players because they have another hurdle to overcome if they are just going to play. However, this is a reasonable and fair requirement. Vaccines are free and, for the most part, easily available. If a student athlete is still not convinced to get vaccinated, that is his decision, but that has consequences for our decisions. In this case, the consequences are either regular testing or no sport in the OIA.
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