Before taking questions in his first virtual news conference of Week 1, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick revisited comments he made last week.
After the Patriots released quarterback Cam Newton during final roster cuts, Belichick was asked whether Newton’s vaccination status was a factor in his release. He said it was not, before adding that a “pretty high number” of vaccinated NFL players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Your implication that the vaccination solves every problem, I would say that has not been substantiated based on what’s happened in training camp this year,” Belichick said last Wednesday.
On Monday, Belichick took an opportunity to clarify those comments.
“I just wanted to take a second and clarify an answer to a question I gave the other day relative to vaccinations,” the Patriots coach said. “No player has been released or kept because of their vaccination status. It’s not part of the equation. My comment, relative to vaccination, was that I really feel like it’s an individual decision for each person to make.
“As a team, we’re better off if everyone is vaccinated. That being said, even if everybody was vaccinated, that doesn’t solve all of our problems, as we’ve seen multiple players, head coaches and assistant coaches around the league test positive even after they had been vaccinated. It’s still incumbent on us to be vigilant in our daily hygiene and decision-making for the health and safety of each of us individually and our team.
“So we’ll continue to follow all the league protocols as we always do. But that’s not a factor in any players’ release or non-release on the team.”
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, disputed Belichick’s initial comments in an interview with NFL Media’s Judy Battista last Thursday.
“We released our data last week from the first three weeks of August, and that data has consistently shown higher rates of infection in unvaccinated players than in vaccinated players. That was true at intake when they first came into training camp and it was true during that first three-week period of August that we released. …
“We know that vaccines are working. What we are seeing are some vaccinated people who test positive. But their illness tends to be very short and very mild, and that?s exactly what the vaccines were designed to do. Let?s all remember the vaccines were designed to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. They?re doing a terrific job of that so far, not only in the NFL where we haven?t seen any serious cases but in society as a whole.”
Unvaccinated NFL players are subject to much stricter protocols than those who have been vaccinated. Newton, who as of last month was not vaccinated, was forced to stay away from the team for five days late in training camp after a “misunderstanding” about COVID testing regulations.
The Patriots are preparing to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in their regular-season opener.