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Sports Venues Emerge as Winners in Vaccination Efforts

25 Apr, 2021

By: Michael Popke

As states open up COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to anybody age 16 and older, it’s clear that stadiums and arenas have played a major role in the vaccine rollout across the country.

More than 1 million doses have been dispensed at 11 Major League Baseball stadiums — including Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in New York, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Petco Park in San Diego, Coors Field in Denver, Boston’s Fenway Park, the Oakland Coliseum, Marlins Park in Miami (recently renamed loanDepot park)and Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.   

“Major League Baseball, our clubs and major league players have worked hand-in-hand with communities across the U.S. and Canada during the pandemic,” commissioner Rob Manfred said, according to the Associated Press. “I commend the clubs that have hosted vaccination and testing at their ballparks and all of our franchises for promoting health and safety in our communities. Most importantly, MLB is grateful to the countless heroes who are lifting up our society and helping us reach the better days ahead.”

Speaking of better days ahead, ballparks are now open for the regular season — but some won’t shut down their vaccine-distribution operations quite yet. Yankee Stadium, for example, is expected to remain open through at least April 30, even when the Yankees are playing night games at home. It will only be closed during home day games.

Yankees officials estimated that more than 80,000 vaccine doses were administered by Opening Day, April 1. 

More than 1 million vaccine doses also have been distributed at National Football League stadiums, according to NFL.com. At least 17 of the league’s 30 facilities in every corner of the country have been designated as mass vaccination sites, with the goal of making all of them available eventually.

In somewhat related (and ironic) news: The NFL’s chief medical officer announced in late March that the league will not require its coaches, players and team personnel to be vaccinated — although it is encouraged. “What we are focusing on is education. We want everyone to have the facts, and we believe that this is an important step forward,” Dr. Allen Sills told Judy Battista of the NFL Network. “We’ll continue those discussions and go where the science leads us on that, but I think we’ve got a lot to learn between now and then. … We’re seeing a lot of dialogue between players, coaches and staff about vaccination. We hope that everyone gets vaccinated.”

State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. — home of the Cardinals —switched from a 24-hour operation to an overnight operation beginning April 5, with hours from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Team officials say they expect to vaccinate as many as 9,000 people during that unconventional window of time.

Another NFL vaccination sites, Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, also recently made some changes to make guests more comfortable. The Eagles Autism Foundation, which supports autism research and programs, teamed up with a local intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities to provide a sensory-friendly environment for people on the autism spectrum. Luxury boxes were repurposed into “quiet spaces,” for a special vaccination clinic held one Saturday in March that provided such comforts as fidget toys and weighted blankets for children of parents receiving their vaccines, as well as step-by-step instructionsand photosfor adults.

As the Eagles noted on the team’s website:“ A recent study across several hundred health care organizations in the United States concluded that individuals on the spectrum are at a substantially increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Shouldn’t the vaccine alleviate those concerns? On the surface, yes, but individuals with autism are not able to wait in long lines at distribution centers or wear masks and maintain a safe social distance at a pharmacy.”

Meanwhile, if you’re fully vaccinated and a fan of the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat — which made headlines in February when coronavirus-sniffing dogs were used to screen fans at AmericanAirlines arena — you’re now entitled to special seating — on the floor.

New “Vaccinated Fans Sections” allow an additional 450 fans inside the arena; the Heat began admitting a limited number into home games in late January. According to the team’s website, spectators seeking the special seats “must verify that they’ve been fully-vaccinated via their CDC-issued COVID-19 vaccination card (or copy), with their identity verified by photo ID.”

Additionally, they must have received their final shot at least 14 days prior to game day, and everybody in a vaccinated individual’s party must also be vaccinated. “Vaccine-verified” wristbands are handed out to qualifying fans.

The policy met with some skepticism. “From a public health perspective, any incentive that motivates people to vaccinate would be a good thing,” Summer Johnson McGee, dean of the University of New Haven’s School of Health Sciences, told NBCNews.com. “However, ethically speaking, such policies are concerning as they discriminate on the basis of immunity status. Small perks for those who are immunized could be harmless, but organizations may take this to an extreme like vaccinated-only airline flights or other restrictions on access to services to only the vaccinated.”

We’ll be watching to see if other pro and college teams follow the Heat’s lead.

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