Frankie Mancini / Gavel Media

Anti-Vax Pro Athletes Promote COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

As the world almost begins its third year of the pandemic, people are thankful for the ability to get vaccinated. Yet there are still horror stories all over the news of the people on ventilators that don’t realize it's too late, that the next breath they take will be their last. Some people simply did not understand how badly Covid could affect them. It’s easy to make fun of their blatant stupidity, but in America no one makes stupid decisions on their own accord. The easiest people to point fingers at is President 45 and the GOP, specifically at the misinformation they have spread throughout the pandemic. Even though they themselves are vaccinated against Covid-19, they continue on their quest for personal choice. Yet, there are others we can look towards as well. 

You switch on the TV on a Sunday and America’s favorite sport is on—football. As everyone struggles through the pandemic, sports like these are sources of, much needed, distractions and relief. Well known quarterback, Aaron Rodgers is playing. In mid-November of 2021, it was revealed that Aaron Rodgers tested positive for the coronavirus. During pre-season press conferences in August, he always told reporters that “he had been immunized.” Rodgers has since stated that he is allergic to an ingredient in both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Though he is eligible for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, he was fearful of side effects. 

Well maybe we will have better luck in other sports, how about basketball? Nope, just more anti-vaxxers. Starting point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving has also become a sort of public figure in his decision to remain unvaccinated. In the preseason it was announced that Irving would not be playing on the team due to New York’s Covid vaccination requirements.The Nets management found a loophole, Covid restrictions were less intense for arenas across America, so Irving could play away games.  

This is not just an American sports phenomenon. The Australian Open was another point of contention in vaccine mandates. Australia has required Covid-19 vaccinations for entry into the country. The country has a fully vaccinated rate of 92%, in comparison the United States has a vaccination rate of around 65%. When Novak Djokovic came to Australia to compete, he received a vaccine exemption. Australians were justifiably enraged at the fact that this sports star seemed to be above the rules. Djokovic has been very vocal about his fear of vaccines. Much like Rodgers, he cites his desire to do what's best for himself and declares this a personal choice. 

What these athletes fail to see is that their personal choice is easier for them to make. They have teams of doctors, dietitians and bankrolls that protect them from Covid. Research has shown that Americans in low income tax brackets and people of color are more likely to be infected with Covid-19. Though their situations are different, they promote their decisions unconsciously. We see these people on our TV’s, social media and billboards. Marketing executives spend millions of dollars on their endorsements. They understand the appeal that these men bring in terms of selling something. With 937,380 deaths in the US alone, the decision to remain unvaccinated is a selfish one. Pre-vaccinations, around 40% of Covid deaths could have been avoided by masking and lock-down policy. Yet, the truth is we can also avoid Covid deaths with vaccines. Scientists say that vaccines helped prevent 1.1 million Covid deaths and 10.3 million Covid hospitalizations in the US by November 2021.  The truth is vaccines work for everyone. Aaron Rodgers, Kyrie Irving and Novak Djokovic would never have been able to compete this year if it was not for vaccines. Their fans would have missed out on a season and Aaron Rodgers would have never won MVP. 

Moral superiority and athleticism are not connected. Just because Aaron Rodgers won MVP, does not mean he understands vaccine science. In sports there is a good chance that these guys are like your weird facebook Uncle who loves Joe Rogan. Hero worship, especially in the United States, creates a binary in who people are. They are either good or bad. So Aaron Rodgers is good at football, that does not mean he makes good moral decisions. Sports create gods out of people and fans are always left disappointed when looking past an athlete's image. Time and time again we see celebrities doing things we dislike. We forget that the world views power and money as a moral standing, and we are shocked when the superstars don’t know how to be normal. Athletes supporting misinformation is dangerous. One might argue that athletes are guilty of doing this on “both sides,” but standing up for human rights is much different than standing up for personal choice.