Vikings reportedly bringing in infectious disease expert to improve vaccination rate

The Minnesota Vikings reportedly have one of the worst vaccination rates in the NFL, but it looks like the team is actively trying to change that and convince more players to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Vikings are inviting Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, to speak with the team on Monday. The likely goal is to convince players who are unsure that the vaccine is safe and effective.

The #Vikings are bringing in renowned epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm to speak to the team today, I'm told. Minnesota’s vaccination rate among players has lagged behind other NFL teams and coach Mike Zimmer has been vocal about his frustration.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 23, 2021

Head coach Mike Zimmer publicly expressed his frustration with his team's lagging vaccination rate after they lost three quarterbacks, including starter Kirk Cousins, for four practices when they were identified as high-risk close contacts of someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. 

"I'm frustrated with, not just my football players who won't get vaccinated, I'm frustrated with everybody." – Coach Zimmer


— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) July 31, 2021

Will FDA approval change players' minds?

The Vikings' mission to convince players the vaccine is safe and effective got a boost on Monday when the FDA fully approved the Pfizer COVID-10 vaccine. Until now, the vaccine had been approved under the emergency use authorization, which has strict, scientific standards for approval, but the timeline for approval is shorter due to an ongoing public health emergency. 

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved under the emergency use authorization since December, and has been administered to tens of millions of people. Now with nine months of data showing that the vaccine is safe and effective, the FDA is giving its full, regular, non-emergency approval. This, combined with Osterholm's visit, has a chance of improving the Vikings' vaccination rate. 

The most notable player who might have their mind changed is Cousins. Following his four-day absence in early August, Cousins said that he'd considered encasing himself in plexiglass to avoid another COVID-19 related absence, indicating that he wasn't vaccinated. He said that he'd had a "great dialogue" with Zimmer about the vaccine, but was continuing to do his own research. 

Cousins hasn't indicated what kind of research he's doing, or what information would convince him that the vaccine is safe. The Vikings are likely hoping that Osterholm's knowledge and expertise plus the FDA's full-throated approval will give Cousins and other players the information they need to trust the vaccine. 

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