The 65-year-old coach, entering his eighth season in Minnesota, noted some of the inconveniences those on his team who decline the vaccine could expect.
“They are going to be wearing masks, they’re going to have to social distance, they’ll have daily testing,” Zimmer said. “They won’t be able to go home for bye week, they’ll have to come back here and test every day. When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on buses differently and travel on planes differently, so a lot of the meetings will be virtual like this [media session] is here.”
In updated protocols for training camp and the preseason the NFL issued to teams Wednesday, the league said that, as opposed to daily testing for others, vaccinated players and team staffers will be tested just once every 14 days. Those vaccinated will also not be subject to quarantining as part of contact-tracing efforts, they will have no travel restrictions and they can much more freely use team facilities such as weight rooms, saunas and dining halls.
More than 50 percent of the NFL’s players have been vaccinated, but teams will need much higher proportions to avoid frequent disruptions to carefully honed practice and travel plans. Once the regular season begins, unvaccinated players could be in constant peril of being sidelined if deemed a high-risk close contact to someone who tests positive, as was the case last season.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins declined to say Wednesday whether he had been vaccinated. He predicted that this season will be “a lot like last year.”
“We already lived it for one season,” Cousins said. “It’s a fluid situation, as it has been since the covid pandemic began. We’ll kind of take it one week at a time, one month at a time, and see where we are when we get to the season. You know, it’s so important that we focus on football as well, and make sure we’re winning football games. That’s what really it’ll be about.”
Asked about players possibly weighing whether to get vaccinated in the context of helping the football team, he said, “I think people just need to make their own decision, and make the one that’s best for them and for their families.”
Among the Minnesota players who have been fully vaccinated is linebacker Eric Kendricks, who told reporters Wednesday, “I did that because obviously I want to be able to travel about and see members of my family and friends, and not get them sick, as well as me not get sick.”
To Vikings defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who rejoined the team Tuesday after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, there was a distinct upside to the unusual way the 2020 season played out amid the pandemic.
“Guys actually had a life a little bit,” said the ninth-year pro. “You got to be home [with] virtual meetings. They tried to take up most of your time throughout the mornings, and then the only time you went up to the facility was for practice, and then your lift.”
With a smile, he added, “You can’t really beat it.”
Richardson said of possibly getting vaccinated that he was still “trying to find out as much information as I can about it.”
His comments echoed those of another former member of the New York Jets, Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. He told reporters last week that he needed to “think about all those certain things that go into it,” and that he would “evaluate that on my own and make the best decision that I feel is the best for myself.”
Some NFL teams have been trying to prod their players to get vaccinated by organizing discussions with experts who could answer questions and potentially allay fears or counter disinformation. On Wednesday, the Vikings set up a virtual meeting with Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer.
Sills “talked a lot about the vaccine — how safe it is,” Zimmer said. Players heard an argument for why they should get vaccinated even if they have already contracted a case of covid-19 and feel they have sufficient immunity. After being vaccinated, “your antibodies are way off the charts,” the coach said.
Zimmer asserted that the importance of more players getting vaccinated lay not only in issues of “safety,” as he put it, but also in how much “easier” it would make team cohesion through face-to-face contact.
“Like me, for instance, I don’t have to wear a mask,” he said. “We had a staff meeting the other day and everybody is in the same room. We can sit there and talk as opposed to trying to do this like we’re doing here.
“I know you guys know, I don’t like doing all of the media stuff, but I would much rather be sitting in a room talking to you than looking up at this camera.”