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What certain things go into it, Sam?

Sam Darnold is busy asking questions that have already been answered.

NFL: Carolina Panthers OTA Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

At a press conference yesterday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold told reporters that he had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine because he still has “gotta think about all those certain things that go into it.”

He did not go on to elaborate on what those certain things were. However, I can take a few guesses. Sam, if I hit the mark here then I hope I can help you make a decision that will protect your teammates and your community. If I don’t address any of your certain things then please feel free to reach out to me. We can talk more or I can help put you in touch with as many doctors as you want to talk to to help you better understand the importance of being vaccinated. My email and DMs are always open to you. I really am just trying to help.

Is it safe?

The short answer here is yes. All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States are safe. The CDC and the FDA don’t screw around with these things. I’m not going to walk you through all of data and the statistics on safety, but it isn’t hard to find if you want it. Just remember that Youtube isn’t a great source for information. Stick to the CDC’s website or talk to your own doctor if you are suspicious of larger governmental organizations.

What I will do is try to sell you on how cautious the government has been with these vaccines with a quick story. On April 12, 2021, the FDA paused their emergency use authorization for the Johnson&Johnson single-shot vaccine. This was due to a number of reported cases of an specific, extremely rare blood clotting disorder (Thrombosis-Thrombocytopenia Syndrome, or TTS). The number was ultimately determined to be 15 cases across the 7 million people who had received the Johnson&Johnson shot by that point. That is significantly fewer cases than would be expected across the general population, as the incident rate of TTS is estimated to be somewhere under five cases per 100,000 people per year, or 50 per million people.

To put that in context, there are somewhere above 1,500 players in the NFL at a given time during the season. The general rate of incidence of mononucleosis in United States universities and military settings (used here as a loose approximation of the social setting of an NFL team and facility) is about 500 cases per 100,00 people per year. In the NFL, that population proportion translates to about eight players. Let’s say just one player contracted mononucleosis and had to sit out three games (an admittedly significant chunk of time that could truly change a team’s season). The FDA’s pause to reassess the safety of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine is more cautious than if the NFL cancelled their entire season because of one player having mono.

But I’m young and healthy!

First of all, you just don’t know that. There are plenty of stories of both college and professional athletes who have contracted COVID and have struggled to return to their sports. Most people who contract COVID are fine. A significant number of people, like those athletes linked to above, have longer symptoms that severely impact their lives. COVID is a lottery ticket that you don’t want to win, and it’s easy to avoid buying a ticket by just getting vaccinated and protecting yourself in the first place.

Second of all, hundreds of thousands of people are dead in this country because this virus spreads easily. Young and healthy people, whether through recklessness or no-fault-of-their-own happenstance have been a significant part of that spread. Vaccinations make it harder for the virus to get a foothold in you and harder to spread outside of you.

There are plenty of people out there who have legitimate reasons to be skeptical about any kind of healthcare. There are also people who just believe that they are being turned into magnets. I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing, unless your wardrobe includes tin foil hats, but here we are (also, it’s not true. Stop, just stop trusting influencers on YouTube over the vast majority of medical doctors). The hesitancy or idiocy of others doesn’t make them any less worthy of protection from this disease, in my opinion. Getting vaccinated reduces the chances the virus has to spread and thereby protects everybody, even those who aren’t willing to protect themselves.

Can’t the people who want to be vaccinated get it and leave me alone?

No. Do you know anybody who has recently had cancer or an organ transplant? Have you ever heard of an autoimmune disease? There are a lot of reasons why some people don’t have immune systems that function the way yours or mine do. COVID is a greater threat to them than it is to you or me. Vaccines, for the same reason, are less effective for them. That means, through no fault of their own, that there is a population of people who can’t protect themselves as easily as I did: with two quick shots and one day of muscle aches.

It may be worth noting, that being immunocompromised does not make the vaccine a great threat to you. None of the vaccines can cause a disease, let alone cause one that you can spread to others. It just means that real diseases are more of a threat to you and systems designed to work with your immune system, like a vaccine, will be less effective because they have less to work with.

You can’t talk about being a role model, being a part of the greater Carolina community, or even about being a teammate if you aren’t willing to take basic precautions to help the people around you who cannot help themselves.

I’m sure there are some certain things that I haven’t addressed here, but after a point most of our audience is going to stop reading. So let’s do this, if you have additional certain things that you want to talk about then please reach out. And if you aren’t Sam Darnold and you have your own certain things that are preventing you from taking the vaccine then please make sure that those things have more basis in reality than “I read it in some deep, dark corner of the internet.”

The vaccines are free, they are safe, and they are effective. Over 500,000 Americans have died because a lot of people haven’t been taking this virus seriously. It’s OK to start out skeptical, but it’s not OK to avoid answering your questions. Doing that is saying that you don’t mind the death toll, which is going to keep rising until enough people are vaccinated to stop the spread.