England footballers and Premier League stars who are refusing Covid vaccinations have been warned they are putting their glittering careers at risk by a leading health expert.
Sportsmail revealed last week that there is widespread opposition to vaccines among top flight footballers, with almost two-thirds of players yet to be fully jabbed, and many refusing altogether.
Five members of the England squad, who gather at St George’s Park today ahead of the next round of World Cup qualification matches, are also unvaccinated.
Five England players have reported for international duty without taking the Covid vaccine
Players have been influenced by anti-vaxx theories circulating on the internet, which are being passed around dressing rooms.
FIFA, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, the England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and club doctors have all encouraged players to have the jab. Now, Professor Paul Hunter, a straight-talking public health expert has added his voice to the debate.
‘Covid could actually be a career ending event [for some players],’ the University of East Anglia professor told Sportsmail.
Prof Hunter said around one in ten young people still have symptoms three months after they have been infected with Covid, which can include breathlessness and fatigue. And for some so-called long Covid could continue for many months more, or even years.
‘For an ordinary 20-year-old that is unpleasant but for an elite sports person that is the difference between being in the team and progressing your career, or not,’ said Prof Hunter.
‘For footballers, life is not going to wait for them to catch up. Other people will be after their spot in the team.
Top flight footballers are reported to be reluctant to take a jab as anti-vaxx theories circulate. It is not known which England players are reluctant to take a vaccine.
‘Don’t believe the crap you read on the internet, think about what six months of long Covid will do to your career. That is the message I would be getting across.’
Footballers are reported to have given a list of excuses for refusing the jab.
One said he was too ‘young and fit’, another believes it is a tool for government’s to spy on people, and others are said to have been pressured against having it by their anti-vaxxer Wags.
But Prof Hunter said: ‘The key is if you are a young footballer… when you get an infection you will be at risk of severe disease like everyone else.’
The expert said that there is a risk with some vaccines of myocarditis – inflammation of the heart – but ‘if you get Covid you are far more likely to suffer that’.
Gareth Southgate explained managers aren’t allowed to know which players have been jabbed
And he added: ‘You will have to be unbelievably lucky, or a hermit, to survive the next three years without getting Covid.’
Prof Hunter spoke out after it emerged five Three Lions players have refused to have the Covid jab – including three who helped the team reach the Euro 2020 final.
The England players are preparing for their next World Cup qualifying matches in Group I, away to Andorra on Saturday and home to Hungary on Tuesday.
Yesterday, the girlfriend of England star John Stones reposted an anti-vaxx message on Instagram.
There are fears posts by Olivia Naylor (pictured) to 45,000 Instagram followers will dissuade others from having the vaccine
His girlfriend applauded a recent post (pictured) highlighting comments from basketball star Jonathan Isaacs, who claimed he’d be protected from the virus by natural immunity
Beauty clinic boss Olivia Naylor uploaded a recent post highlighting comments from NBA basketball star Jonathan Isaac, who claimed he’d be protected from the virus by natural immunity.
There is growing frustration with the footballers, who are seen as important role models by young people across the country.
Only seven of the 20 Premier League clubs have more than half of their squads fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data.
Health Secretary Mr Javid told Times Radio on Sunday: ‘I would just appeal to these people, whether they are footballers, whoever it is… that the vaccines are working.
‘Help protect yourself and protect those around you. They’ve made a conscious choice (not to be vaccinated). It is disappointing, of course it is.
England’s players pose for a team photo before the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying group A match between England and Montenegro at Wembley. There is no suggestion those pictured are refusing a vaccine
‘They are role models in society. People, especially young people, I think will look up to them and they should recognize that and the difference that can make in terms of encouraging others.’
The most assertive plea for players to get vaccinated has come this weekend from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
He said: ‘I don’t take the vaccination only to protect me. I take the vaccination to protect all the people around me.’
FIFA has offered direct encouragement for footballers to get vaccinated.
‘We encourage Covid-19 vaccinations,’ FIFA said, ‘and endorse the World Health Organisation’s position: Safe, fair, and equitable access is critical in all countries. Players should not receive priority access to vaccines.’
Meanwhile, FIFA are in talks with Qatari authorities about scrapping the mandatory vaccination requirements for the showpiece tournament in 2022.