NBA mulling team vaccination clinics, per memo

The NBA is investigating coordinating with national pharmacy chains to “to host on-site vaccination clinics for players, team and arena personnel, and household members at team facilities and arenas in the coming weeks and as state eligibility requirements permit,” according to a league memo that was sent to teams Wednesday and was reviewed by ESPN.

The league is also asking teams to gauge internal interest in hosting and participating in an on-site clinic, including by determining the numbers of players and staff, along with their household members, that would want to participate in being vaccinated.

Teams are also being asked to consider if their facilities could serve as a vaccination clinic for members of their local community, along with dates that could work.

The league’s memo coincides with more teams acquiring COVID-19 vaccines in their respective markets as vaccines become more available and as states expand vaccine eligibility.

The New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat have previously acknowledged acquiring the vaccine for at least some members of their organization, and ESPN reported Wednesday that members of the Los Angeles Lakers are expected to receive a vaccine this week.

While the league is encouraging everyone within its ranks to take the vaccine, it still maintains its initial stance, according to league sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, that there’s “no jumping the line” for any team or teams that want the vaccine but aren’t yet eligible for it in their respective markets.

In short, the league would like its members to be fully vaccinated as quickly as possible but has told teams they must wait their respective turn to do so, these sources added.

Still, the league does encourage any individual within the league who wants the vaccine and is able to acquire it to do so through the proper channels. And the league is overall encouraging players and staff to take the first vaccine that becomes available to them, these sources said, a key point as more vaccines come onto the market.

With respect to possible competitive disadvantage of some teams acquiring the vaccine before others, the league believes it would be ideal if everyone could become vaccinated around the same time but recognizes that it’s not possible under the circumstances, especially with the rapidly changing eligibility in various team markets.

Based on its feedback with medical and scientific experts, the league is encouraging its members to take an approved COVID-19 vaccine but understands that there is hesitancy among some around the league for various reasons. There is also hope among several health officials around the league, especially within several teams, that some of that hesitancy is fading as millions more around the country become vaccinated every day.

“The court of public opinion is tilting a little,” said one Western Conference head athletic trainer. “I think people that were maybe opposed are maybe willing to listen a little bit. I think some people who are on the fence are maybe leaning toward going ahead and getting it.”

One Western Conference athletic training staffer said the NBA’s recent announcement of eased restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated, as ESPN first reported, “nudged me to make that decision” to be vaccinated. But that staffer, along with other team health officials, said that enough people have been vaccinated nationwide that the NBA wouldn’t likely be perceived as “jumping the line” if it were to obtain the vaccine and distribute it league-wide. “We’re beyond that,” the staffer added.

In terms of the playoffs, which are slated to begin May 22, league sources say rescheduling games in the postseason because of COVID-related issues presents obvious logistical obstacles as compared with rescheduling/postponing games in the regular season.

But if a meaningful number of players/team staff are vaccinated by that time, league sources say, there is hope that potential postponements could be minimized. There’s no hard figure as to what would constitute “meaningful,” though. The concept of 85% of players/staff being fully vaccinated — as mentioned in the previous league memo regarding eased restrictions for vaccinated players and staff — by that time is one possible range, and it’s a figure that is based on advice from medical and scientific experts.

The league is also optimistic about having widespread vaccination throughout the league through education and other means without having to make vaccination mandatory. That’s not to say that the league would never explore making vaccines mandatory, league sources say; rather, it’s just that the league is hopeful that it won’t ever reach that point. (As part of its education efforts with teams and players regarding the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, the league has held mandatory team seminars with Dr. Leroy Sims, the league’s senior vice president of medical affairs, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski previously reported.)

Several team athletic training staffers tasked with enforcing and managing the league’s day-to-day health and safety protocols say they have been either fully vaccinated or have received their first dose.

“I like telling the players that I’m vaccinated because I had no side effects,” said a second Western Conference athletic training staffer who was recently vaccinated. “I was maybe a little tired, but I felt no other symptoms. So the more we educate people on that and tell people, that might get rid of some people’s fright or anxiety they have towards it.”

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