With the NFL aiming to return to normalcy this season after a year heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, league officials released a memo earlier this week outlining one crucial step on this path. Top-level team personnel faces a choice of either getting vaccinated, or losing player contact privileges.
Unless valid medical or religious reasons are presented, those within front offices, coaching and support staffs already in contact with a club’s players have to get the Coronavirus vaccine at one point in the near future. The NFL memo has to say the following about this (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
Tier 1 and 2 employees (other than players) should be expected to be vaccinated unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so. Any staffer that refuses to be vaccinated without either a religious or medical reason will not be eligible for Tier 1 or 2 status and therefore will not be permitted access to the “football only” restricted areas and may not work directly or in close proximity with players.
The NFL introduced its personnel tiers last year, as players were set to return to facilities following an offseason of virtual work only. At the time those tiers were defined as follows:
- Tier 1: Players and necessary personnel who must have direct access to players. This group includes players, coaches, athletic trainers, team physicians, as well as the conditioning and equipment staffs. The maximum number permitted by the league to be designated Tier 1 is rostered players plus 60.
- Tier 2: Non-playing personnel who need to be in close contact with players and other Tier 1 personnel. This group includes club facility staff, additional coaches, trainers, physicians and equipment managers, general managers, ownership representatives, and employees of the football operations/administration departments as well as communications/PR staff, and video and security personnel. The maximum number permitted by the league to be designated Tier 2 is 20.
- Tier 3: Individuals who perform essential facility, stadium or event services but do ont require close contact with Tier 1. This group includes operational personnel, in-house media, field managers, transportation providers and additional personnel not assigned to any restricted areas. The maximum number permitted by the league to be designated Tier 3 is 45.
The first two groups will now be subject to the league’s vaccination rules, with clubs asked to educate them and to set up the infrastructure necessary for them and eligible family members. By April 19, each team needs to have a plan in place to get reviewed by the league and its medical team led by Dr. Allen Sills.
Once personnel vaccinations have started, the NFL noted that it is anticipating a modified set of protocols for those who have gotten their Covid-19 shot:
We anticipate relaxing various aspects of the Protocols (such as close contact quarantine, restrictions regarding locker room, meetings and cafeteria use and the testing cadence) for vaccinated individuals.
The NFL is widely following the medical community in its belief that vaccination and the subsequent herd immunity effect are the way out of this crisis. New England Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft, who is also serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees at Massachusetts General Hospital, also noted this last week in regards to returning fans to stadiums this fall.
“Once vaccines have been available in a community for a long enough period of time where anyone who’s wanted one could’ve gotten it and reached two weeks past their second shot ... then I don’t know why you shouldn’t be at full capacity,” he said.
As of right now, no uniform set of vaccination requirements for fans or players has been released by the league or public officials. A recent announcement going into that direction by Erie County, the location of the Buffalo Bills’ Highmark Stadium, was walked back by New York State governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this week.