EAGAN, Minn. -- While the Minnesota Vikings continue navigating a recent COVID-19 interruption within the quarterback room, team co-owner Mark Wilf expressed concern over vaccine hesitancy among players.
"We're very concerned," Wilf said. "I think it's safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community. From that standpoint, we really are encouraging people to take the vaccines, to get vaccinated.
"We're proud of the fact that we've partnered with the State of Minnesota to have our facility here used as a vaccination center in the offseason. We just want everybody to follow the protocols. We're trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations. Of course with the delta variant and other new permutations going on, we just want to make sure to preserve the health and safety. That's the standpoint that we come from as ownership and as an organization."
The Vikings are without quarterbacks Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend, Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley -- the latter two were deemed high-risk close contacts and required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days. All three QBs and wide receiver Myron Mitchell were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.
According to the NFL/NFLPA protocols, a player with the "high-risk close contact" classification designates that they are not vaccinated. Coach Mike Zimmer has been outspoken about his frustration with players who are refusing to get vaccinated and foreshadowed the stark reality the Vikings are "going to have guys miss some games, and we have to be prepared for it."
"I talked to the team and, like I said before, there are quite a few guys that are just against it," Zimmer said on Monday. "I'm not going to be able to change their mind, so, it's like half the country, I guess."
The Vikings' vaccine hesitancy is reflected in vaccination efforts leaguewide. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the NFL, with 64.5% of players fully vaccinated and 70% in process (with at least one shot). The Washington Football Team has dealt with similar interruptions during training camp, with six players currently on the COVID-19/reserve list, but saw its vaccination rate escalate 24% in one week from 60% to 84% of its players being at least partially vaccinated, according to the report.
The NFL announced Tuesday that 90% of players across the league are either fully vaccinated or have had at least one shot. Nine teams are above 95%, and 27 teams have reached the 85% threshold.
The competitive advantage that teams with higher vaccination rates could have this season is not lost on Vikings players, coaches and ownership. On his All Things Covered podcast, cornerback Patrick Peterson noted the importance of getting vaccinated so he doesn't put himself at risk of missing games thanks to COVID-19 protocols.
"I feel like I'm too important to this team not to get vaccinated, not miss an important game and now we possibly lose that game, and that could be the game that we needed to get into the playoffs," Peterson said.
Wilf noted the potential for low vaccination rates to lead to a competitive disadvantage and praised Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman for the way they've approached the situation in Minnesota.
"The competitive side is of course concerning but, again, our focus is on health and safety," Wilf said. "We care about the players and the team and, from that standpoint, they happen to be aligned. But the fact is, we're encouraging vaccinations. We're talking about a serious health pandemic, and it's something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they're fully informed of what's involved here. From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this is the right way -- in terms of making sure we provide the resources, as ownership, that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts."
Zimmer said Monday that he did not know when Mond, Cousins or Stanley would be available to return. Because Mond tested positive, his return is subject to different protocols.
According to NFL/NFLPA guidelines, a player on the COVID-19/reserve list who tests positive and is asymptomatic can return to practice 10 days after showing symptoms, or five days after initially testing positive, with two consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours within a five-day period. Symptomatic players can return 10 days after first testing positive and at least 72 hours after their last symptoms occurred.
"It is a tough circumstance for [Mond]," offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. "We'll make the best of it, keep challenging him in our virtual meetings. He's done a great job with that, staying prepared. Mainly, I just want to make sure he's OK. He's got COVID -- he's sick. We've got to get him healthy first. But when he gets back, we'll get him back physically. In the meantime, we can stress him mentally and make it hard for him so that it's just all physical when he gets back."