UEFA has no plans to vaccinate footballers ahead of Euro 2020, despite England manager Gareth Southgate claiming that players should be considered a priority for a Covid jab.
The Three Lions boss sparked controversy when he shared his view that players could be at greater risk of catching the virus at the tournament and that ‘we are moving to the stage’ where they should be protected.
However, Sportsmail understands UEFA is not planning for players to be vaccinated before the competition begins on Friday June 11.
Gareth Southgate believes England players should be considered for priority Covid vaccines
However, individuals and teams will be subject to regular testing and rigorous protocols to keep them safe, as has been the case throughout the Premier League season and the Champions League and Europa League.
At a press conference on Thursday, at which Southgate unveiled the England squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers, the England manager said: ‘We are moving to the stage where we are asking athletes to be put into situations where they are more likely to catch the virus than others and we have a responsibility to them as well.’
The Government says it is still on track to offer a first dose of the vaccine to all adults by the end of July. But with the Euros starting in June, tournament personnel would almost certainly have to jump the vaccination queue to be inoculated in time.
With the Euros starting in June, players may not get the jab in time for the tournament’s start
Health experts have told Sportsmail that would be unacceptable.
The vaccination priority list in the UK is based on age, with the last group scheduled for the jab being those aged 18-29 years. The only occupational exceptions are frontline health and social care workers.
‘We are asking the players to keep on performing,’ said Southgate. ‘They are having to quarantine when they get back from certain situations.
‘They are having to take some risk going back to families and a lot of them have caught the virus because they have been working.
‘I was not in any way suggesting they should have been ahead of key workers and teachers, who should be ahead, but we are getting close to the point where it could be acceptable and actually football could afford to save the NHS money by buying the vaccines and administering them,’ added Southgate.
Southgate says it’s close to the point where professional athletes should be on the priority list
However, scientists say that footballers should stay in line and wait their turn for a Covid jab because they are actually at much lower risk of catching the virus – and dying from it – compared to other people.
They can see no reason for elite players to jump the queue.
”The priority list is based almost entirely on people’s risk of dying, which has always been the right decision,’ said Professor Hunter of the University of East Anglia.
‘There are a lot of occupational groups who believe they should have more priority over others.’
Official government statistics show that people who work in sport and culture are at less risk of being infected with coronavirus than police, firefighters, teachers, school workers, bus drivers, taxi drivers and a whole host of office workers.
Premier League players are much less likel to catch Covid compared to the general population
None of whom are prioritised for a jab.
In addition, elite Premier League footballers, who are regularly tested and diligently looked after by their clubs, are around five times less likely to catch Covid than other people their age.
The latest results from the Premier League show an infection rate among players and staff of just 0.08%, compared to 0.3%-0.5% among the general population aged 12 to 34.
‘Why would you vaccinate people at a lower risk of getting an infection?’ asked Prof Hunter. ‘And even if they do, they are at substantially lower risk of getting serious disease.
‘Personally, I would not prioritise [them] and I would stick to the existing system. Footballers do not seem to be particularly high risk.’
Scientists do not see any reason to prioritise footballers for a coronavirus vaccine jab
There is also considered to be a low risk of transmission between teams, since football is an outdoor activity.
If prioritising the vaccination of footballers in the UK is controversial, it is likely to be even more fiercely debated across Europe, where far fewer people have been inoculated.
The vaccination rates on the continent have also been hit by concerns over the AstraZeneca jab, with many European countries witholding the vaccine while further safety checks were carried out.
Most countries are now using the vaccine again, but the threat of a third wave of coronavirus infection still looms and will only put authorrities under further pressure to ensure a fair distribution of supplies.
A man gets his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday in Belgium, one of the countries which has resisted the rush to suspend the jab over sporadic cases of blood clots
The UK is still streets ahead of EU countries in distributing vaccine doses, with Hungary outperforming some of its neighbours after breaking away and buying its own shots from China and Russia
The EU’s slow progress on vaccinations is putting countries at risk of devastating third waves, with nations including Germany, Italy and France all seeing infection rates climb again this month
Latest figures suggest, almost 40 doses of the vaccine have been administered per 100 people in the UK, compared to around 20 in Hungary, but no other European country has managed more than 13.
‘There are plenty of 50-year-olds in Europe who need the vaccine before healthy footballers,’ said Keith Neal, an expert in public health and Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham.
‘There are no grounds for vaccinating footballers, given they are fit and healthy adults. And the risk of catching Covid on the pitch is small.’
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in February that footballers were not a vaccine priority
In February, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, said footballers were not a priority for vaccination.
Speaking at the launch of a joint campaign with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to promote fair access to vaccines, he said he was not a supporter of footballers jumping the queue.
‘The priority for the vaccines is, of course, the people at risk and for health workers. This is very clear in our mind. I don’t consider, we don’t consider, football players as a priority group in this respect,’ he told a news conference.
However, Infantino appeared to leave open the possibility that this could change.
He added: ‘Of course for safety reasons, in the context of the months to come, in the context of international competitions and travel, vaccination might be recommended at some point and the Olympic Games are, of course, only in the summer.’