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Allison Williams to leave ESPN over coronavirus vaccine mandate: ‘I cannot put a paycheck over principle’

ESPN sideline reporter Allison Williams watches from the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Florida and Arkansas in 2020. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
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A week before ESPN’s vaccine mandate goes into effect, veteran reporter Allison Williams announced she is parting ways with the network over her decision not to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Citing conversations with her doctor and a fertility specialist, Williams said the vaccine is not in her “best interest” as she and her husband try to conceive a second child.

“I’ve had to really dig deep and analyze my values and my morals — ultimately I need to put them first,” Williams, who joined ESPN in 2011, said in a video posted to her Instagram account on Friday.

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In the five-minute clip, Williams fought back tears as she said ESPN and Disney, its parent company, had denied her a “request for accommodation.”

“Effective next week, I will be separated from the company,” Williams, 37, said. The college sports reporter did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

In an email to The Post, a network spokesperson declined to comment on her status specifically.

“We are going through a thorough review of accommodation requests on a case by case basis, and are granting accommodations consistent with our legal obligations,” an ESPN spokesperson told The Post. “Our focus is on a safe work environment for everyone.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the coronavirus vaccines for anyone age 12 and older, including those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant. The agency says there is no evidence linking the vaccines to fertility issues in women or men.

Guidance for pregnant people and those trying to conceive has fluctuated and been unclear. That has left those expecting babies as one of the country’s most vaccine-hesitant populations. Less than 26 percent of pregnant Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine while expecting, CDC data shows.

Williams’s announcement comes weeks after another prominent ESPN figure condemned the network’s vaccine mandate set to take effect Friday. Last month, in an interview with former NFL quarterback-turned-podcaster Jay Cutler, anchor Sage Steele called ESPN’s vaccine policy “sick.” In the same interview, Steele said she got the vaccine but felt “defeated” by her company requiring it as a condition of employment.

On Saturday, Steele commented on Williams’s Instagram post in a show of support.

“So much love, respect & prayers coming your way!” Steele wrote.

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Williams said in the Instagram video that Disney sent employees an email in April saying that, while the company highly encouraged workers to get a coronavirus vaccine, it was ultimately a personal decision.

Over the summer though, when coronavirus cases surged amid the highly contagious delta variant, Disney announced it would require all employees — including some 4,000 who work for ESPN — to get a coronavirus vaccine.

Last month, Williams announced on Twitter that she would not cover this fall’s college football season because she would not get the coronavirus vaccine while attempting to have a second child.

On Friday, Williams said she understood the company’s policy but added she was not willing to compromise her “morals” and “ethics” for her job.

“I respect that their values have changed,” Williams said. “I had hoped that they would respect that mine did not. Ultimately, I cannot put a paycheck over principle. I will not sacrifice something that I believe and hold so strongly to maintain a career.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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