With one of the NFL's lowest vaccination rates among players, the Minnesota Vikings had epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm speak to the team about the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.
"He's one of the top specialists in the world and I thought he was very good with his points, answered a lot of questions, whether or not that changes anything I don't know," head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.
"He understands the importance of when people look up to our football players, and especially now all this ... delta variant and how it's affecting younger people all over the world, I think that the more that we can show that it's safe."
Zimmer said some players asked Osterholm questions about "things that you hear on the internet," noting that a big reason he invited Osterholm was because he cares about the players and their families.
"That's my main reason. If they miss a game because they get COVID, so be it. But I don't want them to get sick and I don't want their families to get sick and their kids to get sick, or my grandkids to get sick," he said.
It remains unclear precisely which Vikings have not been vaccinated, but if mask-wearing is a giveaway it would indicate that Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith and Sheldon Richardson are among the players who haven't had their shots. Players who are vaccinated are not required to wear masks while at team facilities or on the sidelines during games.
Cousins has been under the microscope since having to quarantine for being a close contact of Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19, earlier this month. The Vikings QB has not officially confirmed if he's vaccinated or not, saying it's a private issue and he's "at peace" with his decision.
However, the nature of his early August quarantine and the fact he said he's open to putting plexiglass walls around his chair during team meetings suggests he has not had it.
Osterholm, the director for the Center for Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has long warned about coronavirus variants fueling surges around the world where vaccination rates are lagging.
"We still have a lot of susceptible people and that's why we have to make vaccine and vaccinations Job 1," Osterholm said last week on his podcast, the Osterholm Update.
Osterholm explained that the ongoing rise in cases in Minnesota, even though it's at a much lower rate than most other states, has nonetheless led to strain on the hospitals in the Twin Cities metro area.
"Even in a place like the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, because of the concurrence of COVID, which is still relatively lower here in terms of incidence compared to the southern Sun Belt states, but because of that COVID and because of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, RSV, in kids we've been on divert for a number of hospitals here, meaning there are no beds available for these pediatric patients, in particular in the intensive care units," Osterholm said.
"I know at least several times this past week, the pediatric intensive care units in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area have been totally full. There are no patient beds available. That gives you a sense of what's happening in our area, which is not yet experiencing fully what we're seeing in other areas of the country. It just has to be understood that we really have taken our healthcare system to the very edge."
The vaccine issue may be more critical for the Vikings than any other team because of the team's apparent depth issues. If Cousins is forced to miss a game due to a positive COVID-19 test or a close contact, it would mean Jake Browning or rookie Kellen Mond would need to start at quarterback. Neither has any experiencing playing in an NFL regular season game.
And it can be argued that the team has depth concerns at nearly every position on both offense and defense, as has been evidenced in the first two preseason games.