Guest post by John Hughes
In July 2022, researchers published results of a study concerning vaccinations and boosters in NBA players and rates of infection.1 The article, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), followed a cohort of NBA players and staff from 1 Dec 2021 to 15 Jan 2022 during the height of the omicron surge. Median age was 34 years. Of the players followed, 608 of 2,164 (28%) of fully boosted players contracted covid compared to 127 of 715 (17%) vaccinated (not boosted) players. No players/staff were hospitalized or died. 93% of infections were determined to be omicron variant using advanced testing techniques.
While most basketball players submitted to the vaccination, not all complied or were happy with the league requirements. NBA champion Anthony Wiggins said “"I did it, and I was an All-Star this year and champion, so that was the good part, just not missing out on the year, the best year of my career," Wiggins said. "But for my body, I just don't like putting all that stuff in my body, so I didn't like that and I didn't like that it wasn't my choice. I didn't like that it was either get this or don't play."2 Some players, such as Kyrie Irving, refused the vaccine altogether, resulting in inability to play in the majority of games during the seasons (and no deaths).
Although NBA players are more fit than most military members, they are of similar age and both populations effectively ‘screen’ prospective members for health. The major significance of this trial is that despite the vaccination (and boosters), a significant number of NBA players still became infected with Covid. None died or were hospitalized. Searches online did not indicate any Covid deaths of active NBA players vaccinated or unvaccinated during the entire pandemic.
40% of the US military is 25 years old and younger. 87% are 40 or under.3 As of 20 JUL 2022, the CDC’s cumulative data on Covid 19 deaths showed that of the 1,017,975 deaths, 25,986 were aged 40 or under (2.5% of total deaths). 6,406 deaths were in 18-29 years old, which encompasses most of the enlisted. The average enlisted age is 27 and the average officer age is 34.4 Add to this the CDC’s own acknowledgement that known risk factors (which most servicemembers don’t have) significantly increase risk of death.
The NBA research study shows that even vaccinations and boosters don’t protect against Covid 19 infection. It was intensive and continually screened athletes over a 6 week period to pick up even minimal covid infections to detect the overall infection numbers. However, the bigger takeaway (so what) is that the age group involved is at low risk from hospitalization and death from Covid in the first place, so this particular vaccine is not critical for US military members of similar age and health.
Add to this a military weary from 20 years at war and experiencing serious recruiting problems. “The Army is significantly cutting the total number of soldiers it expects to have in the force over the next two years, as the U.S. military faces what a top general called “unprecedented challenges” in bringing in recruits. Army officials on Tuesday said the service will fall about 10,000 soldiers short of its planned end strength for this fiscal year, and prospects for next year are grimmer.”5
The Department of Defense should immediately halt the mandate for Covid vaccinations for recruits, servicemembers, and Service Academies.
John Hughes, MD
USMA Class of 1996 (#1 graduate)
3rd Generation West Pointer
4 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan
1Tai, Caroline, et al. “Association Between COVID Booster Vaccination and Omicron Infection in a Highly Vaccinated Cohort of Players and Staff in the National Basketball Association.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 12 July 2022. Vol 328, No 2. Pp. 209-211.
2Andrews, Kendra. “Golden State Warriors’ Anthony Wiggins still regrets getting COVID-19 vaccine, despite All Star, title season. “ ESPN.com. 19 JUL 2022.
3National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on the Well-Being of Military Families; Le Menestrel S, Kizer KW, editors. Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2019 Jul 19. Chapter 3.
4Provisional Covid-19 Deaths by Sex and Age. https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Provisional-COVID-19-Deaths-by-Sex-and-Age/9bhg-hcku
5Baldor, Lolita. “Army cuts force size amid unprecedented battle for recruits.” AP. 19 July 2022.
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