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Dougherty: Aaron Rodgers' decision to go unvaccinated is mind-blowing and selfish for someone who is supposed to be a leader


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GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback and is playing his ass off this year. If he’s open to a contract extension next offseason, the Green Bay Packers should do it.

Also, here’s hoping he’s feeling OK and on his way to a swift recovery after testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. It is a dangerous virus.

But the fact that Rodgers is unvaccinated, as Tom Silverstein of PackersNews.com confirmed Wednesday, is absolutely mind-blowing.

Elite quarterbacks are the CEOs of their locker rooms and indispensable to their team’s success. In that leadership position, with teammates and entire organizations relying so heavily on them, how can they skip vaccination in good conscience?

This goes for not only Rodgers, but the other unvaccinated starting quarterbacks in the league, reportedly including Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Carson Wentz.

Rodgers deservedly gets huge credit for the Packers’ success in his time as their starter. He’s the biggest reason they’ve been a perennial Super Bowl contender since 2010. That is indisputable.

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Video: Aaron Rodgers is going on the COVID-19 list and is unvaccinated
Aaron Rodgers on COVID-19 list, Packers under scrutiny for COVID protocols.
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But with that credit, and the enormous salary that goes with it, comes extra responsibility. Especially for a player who preaches team and locker-room brotherhood. That includes not self-servingly hiding behind “personal choices” when obligated for the sake of teammates to take a vaccine that’s been proven safe and effective during a worldwide health crisis.

And, for the record, yes, the three FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective. Apologies if this gets tedious, but it needs saying.

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Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to contract COVID-19 than the fully vaccinated. Eight times more likely. There’s a pretty good chance being vaccinated would have spared Rodgers and the Packers this illness.

As for safety, also according to the CDC, the chances of a 30- to 49-year-old male experiencing the severe long-term side effect (myocarditis) associated with a dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is .00058%. That’s less than one one-thousandth of a percent.

Likewise for the two serious side effects linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A 30- to 49-year-old man has a .00075% chance of getting Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and a .00016% chance of getting thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome.

The CDC and Ohio State University report that the odds of developing any of those three conditions are far greater from contracting COVID-19 than from vaccinations. That is the definition of asymmetrical risk.

The choice of vaccine types also allows for options based on medical conditions, in case that was a concern for Rodgers. If he has a legitimate medical issue that excuses him from getting the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer), then he can get the viral-vector J&J shot, or vice versa. If he has legitimate medical issues for both, the league can exempt him from unvaccinated player protocols.

In fact, it sounds like Rodgers made such a petition. The NFL Network reported he received homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor to raise his antibody levels, but the players' union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league agreed Rodgers' treatment provided no documented protection from the coronavirus. That wasn’t going to fly.

That’s a long way of getting to this: Rodgers knew the COVID-19 rules going into the season. They were clear that unvaccinated players are far more likely than the vaccinated to miss time because of COVID-19. He had a choice, an easy one really when weighing the risks and rewards, and now his team pays the price because he abdicated his leadership responsibilities to his teammates and organization

Because he’s unvaccinated, Rodgers has to isolate for at least 10 days. If vaccinated, he could have returned any time after two negative tests 24 hours apart.

Rodgers tested positive Wednesday morning, so the soonest he can return to the Packers is the day before their home game next week against Seattle. So he’ll definitely miss this week’s game against Kansas City, and even if he’s cleared to play against the Seahawks, he will not have practiced that week.

That’s huge with playoff seedings at stake for a 7-1 team with realistic Super Bowl ambitions. As one NFL scout I talked to Tuesday put it, “this could be the difference between being the No. 1 seed and the No. 4.”

It’s also worth remembering that Rodgers’ unvaccinated status is an issue going forward unless he relents and takes the vaccine. Whereas vaccinated players don’t have to miss time because of a “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19, an unvaccinated player must quarantine for five days. What if Rodgers has a close contact five days or less before a playoff game? That would be a catastrophe.

With all that in mind, I just don’t see how Rodgers and the other starting quarterbacks in the league can in good conscience skip the vaccine. Their teammates and franchises are relying on them, that’s why these guys have by far the highest salary in the building. With vaccination risks ridiculously low and the professional stakes incredibly high, how do you stay unvaccinated?

Rodgers also tried to sneak his status past everyone, even if his teammates obviously knew. When asked in training camp whether he’d been vaccinated, he answered, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.” He knows he was seemingly confirming vaccination, and he disdained masking up for in-person press conferences even though league rules require otherwise for the unvaccinated. How did he do all that with a straight face?

After the drama of the offseason and the Packers’ horrendous loss to New Orleans in the opener, there were plenty of people questioning Rodgers’ commitment to his team. Safe to say he’s buried those questions on the field.

The play that stands out most from the Packers’ win at Arizona last week wasn’t Rasul Douglas’ game-saving interception. It was Rodgers’ failed attempt to run the ball in from the 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter. He sacrificed life and limb by lowering his shoulder with the game on the line and paid by taking a big hit. It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like that. Though he was dropped at the 1, he proved the depth of his commitment to win while on the field.

But how do you square his risking all for teammates on the field with his unwillingness to take an infinitesimal risk for them off it? That he’s not vaccinated is mind-boggling.

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