ST. GEORGE — With high school sports seasons getting underway, local health experts are putting the word out about COVID-19 vaccinations for athletes.
Intermountain Healthcare held a media call Wednesday morning with officials who are encouraging prep athletes to protect themselves and their seasons by getting a COVID-19 vaccination.
Holly Nelson, media relations specialist for Intermountain Healthcare, began the call by recalling what it was like last year as high school sports were filled with worry and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smaller audience attendance, altered schedules, mandatory testing and the looming threat of quarantines all contributed to what Nelson called “an atmosphere of anxiety.”
“As students return to school this year, Intermountain Healthcare is encouraging everyone over age 12 to be vaccinated for COVID,” Nelson said. “It is the best protection to avoid missing games, practices, training and other sport activities.”
As previously reported on St. George News, the local health department in Southern Utah does not see the need for mandated vaccines or mask use in schools, and the school boards in Washington and Iron counties have stated that they will not have requirements when schools open next week.
In the press call, Rhett Farrer, Intermountain Healthcare certified athletic trainer, said mask use is encouraged for athletes and there’s one COVID defense that works better than any other.
“First and foremost, get a vaccine,” Farrer said. “Make a choice to keep yourself and your teammates and your season alive by getting a vaccination.”
Most sports by their nature require physical contact with others, and Farrer said that vaccines can protect athletes from getting any symptoms as well as from spreading disease to others.
“You can protect yourself and others,” Farrer said. “Think of that vaccination as part of your protective equipment, like a knee pad or a helmet.”
Athletes at the Olympics and in other sports leagues have expressed concerns about the vaccine hindering their performance and damaging their ability to compete.
“I don’t know that there’s been any good information put out about how it changes athletic performance,” Farrer said, “but I can guarantee it’ll affect your participation if you get COVID. You’re going to be out.”
A lot of talk in sports at every level is about concern for athletes’ mental health. The threat of COVID is hard on athletes in that regard.
“This is just another log on the fire for these young athletes to worry about,” Farrer said. “Am I protected? Can I get COVID from my teammates or from a competitor? We try to mitigate those concerns through personal choices with masking and vaccination, hand hygiene and using your own water bottle. Protect yourself.”
In his final analysis, Farrer said the benefits of getting a vaccination far outweigh the possible side effects.
“The negative effects are minimal,” Farrer said. “If you’re going to do a risk/reward scenario, get a vaccination so you can preserve your season and preserve your participation with your team.”
Dr. Tamara Sheffield, Intermountain Healthcare community health & prevention medical doctor, reported that in Utah, 43.8% of 12-18 year-olds have received at least one vaccine dose and one third of all Utah teens are now fully vaccinated.
She said that those who have been vaccinated experience a 96% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID.
“The vaccine is highly effective. We find it’s even more effective in younger ages than it is in older ages,” Sheffield said. “The younger you are, the better your immune system kicks in and gives you the protection you need.”
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