Despite a ton of headlines about those who are reluctant to the get the jab, NBA players have been overwhelmingly accepting of the COVID-19 vaccine, even though the league is not actually mandating it. Shams Charania of the Athletic reported on Thursday that 90% of the league’s players are considered fully vaccinated, and according to Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, the purple and gold are doing even better than that.
“We’ve worked really hard with our UCLA Health partners and our team doctors, and players, and agents and family members, and on opening night when we play the Golden State Warriors, all of the players that are currently signed on our roster that night will be deemed fully vaccinated,” Pelinka said at his traditional preseason media availability.
Fully vaccinated players are ones that are two weeks past their final shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pelinka’s comments (and Charania’s report) come on the heels of high-profile stories about two prominent NBA players finally finding a shot they won’t take. Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is potentially set to miss home games due to reportedly being unvaccinated, and Andrew Wiggins is facing the same possibility for the Golden State Warriors over his own reported unwillingness to get the jab.
And while Pelinka’s comments make it sound like that won’t be an issue for the Lakers this year, they are no strangers to vaccine hesitancy affecting the availability of players on their roster. The team was only 85% vaccinated last season, with Dennis Schröder openly rejecting the vaccine and ending up in the league’s health and safety protocols twice as a result.
Pelinka didn’t reference any of those situations specifically, but they’re necessary preamble to contextualize how much relief he clearly feels that every player on the Lakers is set to be fully vaccinated by the team’s season opener against Wiggins’ Warriors on Oct. 19.
“We’re really grateful,” Pelinka said. “We will be grateful that we won’t have interruptions caused by an unvaccinated player or staff member.”
This was not a certainty by any means, either. Dwight Howard drew criticism in the NBA bubble for saying he didn’t believe in vaccines, and Kent Bazemore said last season while with the Warriors that he wasn’t planning to get vaccinated.
So what changed? While the NBA didn’t go so far as to mandate the vaccine for players, it did make things pretty uncomfortable for those who don’t get the shot. In addition to the local mandates that may keep Wiggins and Irving from playing in home games, the league itself is putting in place separate protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players, according to The Associated Press:
The league told its teams on Tuesday that it is going ahead with a plan where those who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will not need to submit to regular testing. Those who are unvaccinated, however, will undergo rigorous testing — one test on practice or travel days, and at least one test on game days... Other provisions for unvaccinated players will include that they wear masks at team facilities and during travel. Teams were told they will have to arrange seating in almost all situations — travel, meals, meetings, even locker-room setups — to ensure that players who are not fully vaccinated are not seated directly next to another player.
For their part, the Lakers have mandated that all their office employees must get vaccinated. Further information on the safety and effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine is available on the CDC website. If you need help scheduling your shot in L.A. County, the public health department provides resources on their website.