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Opinion: Athletes shouldn’t be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine

Professional sports can wait
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Losing high-risk lives is a something we can't take back. ASIF AISHA IBRAHIM/THE VARSITY
Losing high-risk lives is a something we can't take back. ASIF AISHA IBRAHIM/THE VARSITY

It cancelled the Olympic Games. It took away some athletes’ last opportunity to qualify for and play the sport they love. It cleared out buildings, fields, and arenas that were once full of thousands of energetic and vibrant fans, leaving nothing but empty seats. 

The pandemic has affected the world of sport, without question. This debate is about where professional sports athletes should stand on the waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine. It has not been an easy decision. With the 2020 Summer Olympics rolling right around the corner, should athletes be first in line for the vaccine?

The answer is that athletes shouldn’t expect to jump to the start of the line. Although professional sports are focused around large groups of people and boost our communities and local economies in many ways, athletes are generally very fit and healthy individuals who are already required to follow strong COVID-19 regulations. 

Ultimately, they do not fall under the “high-risk” category — a category that includes vulnerable groups, such as essential workers, people with underlying health conditions, members of Indigenous communities, and older adults. 

Athletes shouldn’t feel the need to be prioritized in vaccine distribution. Since leagues like the NHL, NBA, and National Collegiate Athletic Association have outlined strong COVID-19 rules and regulations for their players, staff, and teams, and since athletes are not high risk, it makes sense that the at-risk public should be at the front of the line — ahead of our teams. 

That being said, where exactly do athletes fall on the list for the COVID-19 vaccine? Professional athletes should not expect to get the vaccine until ‘priority groups’ such as teachers, police officers, and grocery store workers have received their doses — meaning that they should not receive the vaccine until the general public can. 

For professional sports, this will mean more of exactly what they are doing now — limiting the number of fans allowed in buildings and following all mask and physical distancing guidelines. As far as the Olympic Games are concerned, the bubble technique has proven effective at preventing COVID-19 from disrupting games and may be an equally effective technique for the Olympics. 

We are all craving a good sports game. We have all been waiting for the chance to watch an in-person match for the last year, seeking that social dynamic, and hoping for the opportunity to rep our jerseys again. That moment will come. We, as fans, must remember that sport will remain sport, our teams will remain our teams, and the games we love will remain the games we love — but losing high-risk lives is something we can’t take back.