England midfielder Jude Bellingham says he has had both Covid-19 vaccinations plus his booster – and has encouraged other footballers to do the same.
The 18-year-old plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany. where 94% of players are double vaccinated.
Bellingham told BBC’s Sally Nugent that players “have a platform in society”.
“I’ve had both jabs and the booster, just to be safe. I don’t want to passing anything on to my family and be having to miss games myself,” he said.
“It’s not for me to sit here and say everyone has to get vaccinated, it is personal choice… obviously I want everyone to be safe, so I’d probably advise them to get it.”
The debate around footballer vaccination rates comes amid a series of Covid-19 outbreaks at Premier League and EFL clubs – causing a string of postponements to the weekend’s fixture list.
Premier League shareholders, managers and captains will discuss potential options at a meeting on Monday.
Vaccination rates among German footballers are higher than those in England – where 25% of EFL players say they do not intend to get the jab, and the most up to date Premier League figures, published in October, revealed that 81% of Premier League players had had at least one jab, while 68% had been given two doses.
There are no official figures for vaccination rates in Scottish football, where tighter protocols have been introduced aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.
Compared with wider society across the UK, 89% of over-12s have had their first vaccine dose, 82% have had their second and 44% have had a booster.
However, across England the vaccination rate for under-40s is below 75%.
Unvaccinated people who are deemed a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for 10 days under the legal requirements set out by the UK government.
England manager Gareth Southgate – also speaking to BBC – said on vaccinations: “The only way through it is to fight the virus collectively – for health reasons; for the economy; for everything. We all have that responsibility to think of other people as well as ourselves at times like this.
“I don’t see another way out of the situation we’re in. I understand people had concerns about the testing and what it might lead to. But I think we’ve got huge medical experience and if you’re listening to the right experts, that should give people comfort in that situation.”
Who else has spoken on vaccinations?
- Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has asked clubs to “strongly encourage” players to get vaccinated, saying “it has never been more important” for the “protection against the Omicron variant”.
- Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston added: “Getting the jab is the socially responsible thing to do.
- Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp believes getting a vaccination should be mandatory “from a moral point of view” and revealed “99%” of his squad have had both jabs.
- Klopp, Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard and Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira have all said that vaccination status would be a consideration if signing players in the January transfer window.
Why are some players not getting vaccinated?
Some people choose not to be vaccinated, citing a number of factors, including their lack of confidence in the vaccine, concerns about side effects, or a fear of needles.
Others – a minority – opt out of vaccination because of their consumption of misinformation and conspiracy theories online, particularly on social media.
One social media theory links footballers and cardiac issues – such as Denmark’s Christian Eriksen, Barcelona’s Sergio Aguero and Wigan’s Charlie Wyke – with the side effects of Covid-19 vaccinations.
Sports cardiologist Dr Jansay Sharma, the medical director of the London Marathon, told BBC Sport there is “no evidence” of a link between vaccines and myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle.
“I’m very heavily involved in football and am aware of the cardiac issues that have affected some football players,” Dr Sharma said: “One thing I’d confirm is that the events you have read about are not linked to Covid infection or the vaccine so it’s very important to get that message across.
“We need to respect an individual’s autonomy – but my message to them is that the risk [of heart muscle inflammation] from vaccines is extremely small – 1 in 20,000-50,000. The risk with Covid is 20-50 times higher.
“I think we have a societal responsibility to try to curb the virus. They’re also role models. If a top players says they don’t want to be vaccinated then you can imagine some people saying: ‘Why should I get vaccinated then?’ For all of these reasons, I would encourage young players to get vaccinated.”
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish said he understood some players had their own concerns about getting the jab but added that he believed the vaccination rate compared favourably with the rest of society in the same age group.
“Players are no different to people in society in that age group – some people have their own views and concerns,” Parish told BBC Breakfast.
“We have a very high vaccination rate – I think – in the Premier League for the age group that players are compared with the rest of society.
“But there are players who have concerns – medical issues which mean they can’t get vaccinated in the same way, or just individual or family concerns. We have to work through those and do our best.”
Former Premier League doctor Matthew Ogunsanya told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I think it is simply a case of perceived risks versus the benefits.
“Ultimately you have to ask the question: Why do some players see the risk of the vaccine and why don’t they see the benefits of it? The reasons for that will vary.”
Former Scotland and Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said he was angered by those players who are not getting vaccinated.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast: “I’m not convinced unvaccinated players should be allowed to carry on playing as it’s unfair on the other players.”
The Premier League, EFL and the Professional Footballers’ Association have arranged for players to meet with England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam to discuss concerns regarding the vaccine.
What do the managers say?
Liverpool boss Klopp has spoken passionately about Covid-19 vaccines, urging sceptics to “trust the experts”.
He used his programme notes before Thursday’s 3-1 win against Newcastle to encourage people to get vaccinated, writing: “If I come across friends or people I care about in my life away from football and they tell me they haven’t had a jab yet, I do my best to encourage them to listen to experts.
“It’s never a case of ‘listen to me’ – it’s always ‘listen to those who know’.”
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has long spoken up in favour of getting the vaccine, saying previously: “I think the doctors, the medical department can do it, so the players have to know that is [to] protect them, family and the rest of society. But no-one can obligate them to do it.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, who contracted the virus in the early stages of the pandemic, said he has encouraged his players to get 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,” he 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.”
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte said he would like his players to get vaccinated but would not force anyone to do it.
“Honestly, this is a personal matter, the vaccination,” he said.
“I’ve been vaccinated and my family, my daughter and wife, did the same. I’d like that other people do the same but every single person needs to take the best decision for himself.”
Matt Taylor, manager of League Two side Exeter City told BBC Sport he would not be influencing any of his players to get vaccinated, stressing it was “their decision”.
“From my discussions with players who haven’t had the vaccine, there’s a lot of influences, and they’re understandable,” Taylor said.
“Whether it be things in terms of enlarged organs, heart problems, respiratory problems, possible fertility issues, they’ve got a whole host of questions which come up and often remain unanswered.
“Sometimes people think it’s a straightforward decision as to whether you do or don’t get the vaccine. But it’s not as easy a decision because everyone’s circumstances are totally different.”
What is the situation like in Europe?
- Serie A says 98% of its players have been double jabbed. Juventus and Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini took to social media at the start of December to urge his followers to get their booster jab.
- In France, 95% of players have been double vaccinated and there are a low number of positive cases in Ligue 1.
- In the Bundesliga, 94% of players have been double vaccinated. Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich tested positive for coronavirus in November and said he wished he had chosen to vaccinate earlier.
- More than 90% of La Liga players have been double vaccinated and stadiums are still allowed at full capacity.