Football Friday nights, packed student sections and late night bus rides signal the return of a normal season for the high school’s student athletes. That regularity may not last for long, however, as COVID-19 cases rise and a growing number of student athletes are sidelined due to mid-season quarantines. Given this concerning reality, the school must mandate vaccination against COVID-19 for all student athletes in order to protect student safety as well as to ensure the longevity of the fall sports season.
Earlier this year, the high school provided the opportunity for all eligible students to receive the vaccine during the school day. Yet, some students at the high school remain unvaccinated. Of those unvaccinated individuals, student athletes who have not received the vaccine pose a serious threat to others. Last year, many teams saw condensed seasons and early endings as many games and practices were cancelled due to mandatory quarantines. For example, last year the boys soccer team fielded a roster consisting of a majority of JV players for a first round tournament game due to a whole team quarantine. Similarly, the boys basketball team had to stop all practices and games for two weeks last December due an inner-team COVID-19 outbreak. To protect against this season-ending threat, student athletes must be vaccinated to reduce quarantines among teams.
As the policy stands, any vaccinated student athlete who is exposed to COVID-19 does not have to quarantine unless they experience symptoms. If entire teams were vaccinated and ran into a positive case, a majority of the team would be saved from the 10-day quarantine process, allowing the season to continue as normal.
A required COVID-19 vaccine would protect the safety of student athletes and also preserve the safety of the school at large. Student athletes are more likely to come into contact with people outside of the high school than the average student, as they travel to play other teams from different cities sometimes as far as two hours away. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 56.43% of Franklin County residents have received the vaccine, while Licking County has just a 48.51% vaccination rate. Granville High School, located in Licking County, plays both the boys soccer team and girls field hockey team this year. Those student athletes are exposed to populations that have lower vaccination rates, endangering the safety of student athletes and those they come in contact with. Thus, mandating vaccination amongst student athletes will protect the general student body from contracting the virus.
Furthermore, the added population of COVID-19 vaccinated students that would arise in response to required vaccines for student athletes would protect the all-in model of learning at the high school. Last year, many students suffered academically and emotionally from the excess of problems that hybrid and distance learning created. By minimizing the amount of quarantined students, including student athletes, some semblance of a normal school year can be protected.
While some will argue that COVID-19 vaccines should not be forced on students at the high school, the ability to play sports is a privilege and not a right. A vaccine enforcement is no different from the other restrictions already placed on student athletes. Athletes, for example, are required to maintain a minimum GPA requirement in order to play. Just as participation in athletics incentivises academic performance, a vaccination mandate can and should be used to incentivize immunization against COVID-19.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so too does the importance of required vaccination for student athletes at the high school. The high school’s student athletes deserve to experience all the moments that come with being a high school athlete. The only way to protect that experience is by mandating vaccines for all student athletes. By vaccinating student athletes, the high school can do its part in the return to a normal world.