United Kingdom

Jonathan Van-Tam sends message to Premier League footballers in bid to explode anti-vax myth

Boston United's most famous fan, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, is known for his colourful language. But he could not be more forthright in a message urging Premier League players to ignore myths around the Covid-19 vaccine.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Van-Tam has told players that he is not ‘going to mince words’ in a video designed to provide footballers with the ‘scientific facts they need’ to persuade them to get vaccinated.

The professor of health protection recorded the personalised message because of vaccine hesitancy among the Premier League and Football League players.

He introduces himself as a Boston season-ticket holder and football fan and directly takes on issues such as heart inflammation in a bid to convince players to get jabbed.

Promising ‘to be straight with you’, he points out the risk to their professional careers of contracting long Covid and benefits of vaccination in the three-minute video which clubs hope will convince those still holding out to take the vaccine.

The Mail on Sunday is aware of a number of Premier League clubs where a handful of players are still resisting, despite managers and medical staff being desperate for players to be vaccinated, as it makes travel and training much easier and might allow the Premier League to relax strict social distancing rules in dressing rooms.

Jonathan Van-Tam has urged Premier League stars to get the jab in a personalised video 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has admitted that not all of his players have been vaccinated

Strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) and Alexandre Lacazette (R) both contracted the virus

Clubs are also fearful of the increased risk of Covid disrupting their season. Arsenal, who have endured their worst start to the season, have lost Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Ben White and Granit Xhaka for spells because of Covid, which has placed Mikel Arteta’s job in jeopardy. It was confirmed that Xhaka hadn’t been vaccinated prior to contracting Covid. 

Van-Tam’s video has not been made available to the public but is being distributed by clubs to players via WhatsApp videos and is delivered in Van-Tam’s unique and direct style: ‘The best protection for you and for everyone — and I’m not mincing my words here — is the vaccine,’ Van-Tam tells the players. ‘I’m going to give you some scientific facts which I think you as professional footballers need . . . ’

He then deals with one of the key reasons footballers have cited for not getting the vaccine, which is that there’s no point as you can still catch Covid.

Van-Tam says: ‘A few footballers have been hospitalised with Covid. This is not a joke. If you have two doses of Pfizer, it will cut your chances of being ill by 85 per cent and cut your chances of ending up in hospital or dying by 95 per cent. It should be pretty obvious that if you don’t get Covid, you can’t get long Covid. And you don’t want long Covid if you’re a top sportsman.’

Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow was hospitalised with Covid, losing five kilos from fatigue

Some players are fed up with team-mates who aren’t double- jabbed as it complicates foreign travel for the whole squad.

‘If you’re double-jabbed, you don’t need to isolate any longer if you’re the close contact of a positive case,’ Van-Tam says. ‘All you have to do is to ensure your tests keep coming back negative. That means you’ll miss less training and games. Many countries insist on a Covid passport for travel and it’s going to be difficult for players to (play in) European and international fixtures unless they are double-jabbed.’

He also deals directly with some of the side-effects of the vaccine, including the very small risk of heart inflammation with the Pfizer vaccine. ‘A sore arm is pretty likely,’ says Van-Tam. ‘Feeling tired, headachy, achy, maybe a little bit sick. This very rarely lasts longer than a few days.

Granit Xhaka opted against being vaccination but was forced to isolate after testing positive

‘I’m sure you’ve read and I’m sure you’ve heard about serious side- effects and I’m going to play it absolutely straight with you.

‘They can occur but they are extremely rare. The one that’s talked about is heart inflammation. I say to you plain and straight that that is documented as a risk. But the risks of heart inflammation are far, far higher from Covid than from having the vaccine.’

Some footballers are suspicious that the vaccine was developed so quickly and Van-Tam addresses that, as well as myths that have worried some players for religious reasons, that the vaccine contains alcohol or animal foods such as pork products, which would be problematic for some Muslims.

‘It was developed quickly, no question about that,’ says Van-Tam. ‘But no short cuts were taken in terms of the standards that had to be passed.

‘Some of the Covid vaccines do contain trace amounts of alcohol. But the Pfizer vaccine, which is the one that you’re most likely to be given in the UK if you’re under 40 years of age, has absolutely no alcohol in it. And there are no animal products in any of the Covid vaccines that we are using in the UK.’

Fear of needles and a suspicion of authority have been cited as reasons for the reluctance of a minority to be vaccinated. With the possibility of vaccine passports being introduced for major sporting events later in the winter, the Premier League could find itself in the uncomfortable position of insisting fans are vaccinated but allowing unvaccinated players and staff into the stadium.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce also revealed that many of his players are not vaccinated

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