NFL vaccine rules, explained: What happens when a player enters COVID protocol?
NFL 

The NFL is getting to play another season during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with vaccines now available to combat the disease, the league’s protocols in fighting the virus have changed.

The NFL isn’t mandating that its players get vaccinated. It is, however, adjusting its COVID protocols to be a bit easier on vaccinated players.

Heading into the 2021 NFL season, the league’s COVID protocols for unvaccinated players remain largely the same as they were in 2020. Vaccinated players still have to deal with the protocols, but only if they test positive for the virus.

Below is everything you need to know about the NFL’s COVID protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players and how it could impact the 2021 NFL season.

NFL COVID vaccine rules

Here is the NFL’s COVID protocol for vaccinated players, according to the NFL:

The main difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated players is that vaccinated players don’t have to worry about being a “high-risk” close contact at any point. They also  have more freedom to participate in activities than their unvaccinated counterparts. Vaccinated players can go out on the road and more easily spend time with teammates outside the facility, among other perks.

What is NFL’s COVID protocol for unvaccinated players?

The NFL’s COVID protocols are stricter than those for vaccinated players. They are as follows, per the NFL:

Unvaccinated players also have more procedures they must follow to avoid falling into COVID protocol. They include the following:

When is a player considered fully vaccinated?

The NFL considers a player fully vaccinated if they fall into one of the two following categories. They either are 14 days removed from their final dose of Pfizer, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or they previously contracted COVID and are 14 days removed from a single dose of any vaccine.

Will the NFL postpone games because of COVID?

The NFL has left the door open for potential postponements. That said, the league has said that “postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner’s discretion.”

Of course, the NFL has also said that it’s hoping to play its full, 272-game schedule “in a safe and responsible way,” so it seems likely that the league will consider postponements where appropriate.

However, the NFL has noted that the burden of postponements or cancellations will fall upon teams featuring COVID spikes among unvaccinated players. If outbreaks occur among vaccinated players, the league will seek to “minimize the burden” of that club.

If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection. We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.

What does that mean? Well, if a team has an outbreak that impacts unvaccinated players, they’re less likely to get a favorable ruling from the NFL. So, they may be forced to play significantly shorthanded or at a less convenient time. 

The NFL also has stated that if a game cannot be rescheduled within its 18-week season due to a COVID outbreak amid non-vaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will be forced to forfeit.

Additionally, the league said that “games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.” That principle was in action last year, and the Broncos were the best example of it in action. They had to play with practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton as their quarterback after their quarterback room was exposed to the virus.

Will the NFL add an extra week because of COVID postponements?

No, they’re not planning to. The NFL confirmed that they are hoping not to extend the regular season past 18 weeks (17 games and one bye).

We do not anticipate adding a “19th week” to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.

Perhaps the NFL will change its tune if COVID becomes a bigger issue than the league anticipates, but for now, don’t expect the league to add another week to the season.

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