ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Football Team defensive end Montez Sweat said Wednesday he wasn't persuaded to take the COVID-19 vaccine after listening to an expert discuss the matter with him and his teammates, highlighting an issue that remains not only in the NFL but in society as well.
Washington coach Ron Rivera had an immunologist who is a leading coronavirus vaccine researcher speak to the team Tuesday. Kizzmekia Corbett answered questions and provided information about the vaccine via videoconference, hoping to lessen fears.
Rivera said his players are approaching a 50% vaccination rate, while his staff and the rest of the employees in the building have all been vaccinated. Rivera has also met privately with players, trying to present information or have a conversation about their concerns.
"I'm not a fan of it," Sweat said Wednesday of the vaccine. "I probably won't get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff. I'm not a fan of it at all.
"I haven't caught COVID yet so I don't see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID."
The NFL has loosened restrictions for those who have been vaccinated, allowing them to go without masks and to not be tested daily for COVID-19.
Unvaccinated players are still subject to all this, as well as contact tracing quarantine policies. They also will be unable to interact with other players when traveling, or with family and friends on the road. They can't eat in the cafeteria and must adhere to capacity limits in the weight room.
"Obviously they want everybody to be vaccinated to move freely around the facility and with traveling," Sweat said. "But everybody has their own beliefs and they're entitled to their own decision."
Sweat said the players have a "constant conversation" about this topic. Rivera called it a choice for players, one that he'd like them to make in favor of the vaccine -- but he doesn't want to force it upon them.
"The big thing is we've got to be able to facilitate the opportunity for these guys to understand," Rivera said. "There's a lot of messaging that's out there; they get it off of Twitter and some of it is good, some of it is bad. I'm not sure if these guys watch the news as much as I do and try to gather enough information, but we are really trying to help them, because if we can get to that herd immunity, we can really cut it loose and really be able to spend time with each other."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 tracker, 63.8% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a vaccination; 42.3% have been fully vaccinated.
"I know myself and all these other guys were exposed to what you might call fake news or just rumors on social media about the vaccines, and maybe conspiracies and stuff like that," Washington rookie wide receiver Dax Milne said. "Some guys are obviously for it -- getting the vaccine -- some guys still have a little bit of hesitancy. But personally, it was good to hear the real facts, and I plan on seeing a lot more people getting the vaccine on the team."
Milne said he had heard about deaths and other side effects from vaccines. But, he said, Corbett told them there were a lot of fake articles that peddled misinformation.
Milne said she also told them "that when it gets down to the real facts and the actual studies that they've done, with real information, there's been no deaths from it."
"I don't want to speak out of turn," he said, "but it sounded a lot more safe than we all thought it was. I think we're feeling a lot more comfortable with it now."
Offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles said, "Learning new stuff like that -- I learned plenty of stuff yesterday about the vaccine that I had never heard, so it was good to hear."