Adam Silver: There’s value in NBA players setting example of getting vaccinated

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his league won’t jump the line for coronavirus vaccines.

But he’d still welcome government officials moving NBA players to the front of the line.

Silver at a Sportico conference, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“Several public health officials — and this is operating state by state right now — have suggested there would be a real public health benefit to getting some very high-profile African Americans vaccinated to demonstrate to the larger community that it is safe and effective,” Silver said.

“At the appropriate time, whenever that is and whether that’s directed federally by NIH or CDC or ultimately state-by-state programs, we think there’s real value in our players demonstrating to a broader community how important it is to get vaccinated.”

“Anything we will do will be fully transparent and in conjunction with public health authorities, so there’s no sense whatsoever that there’s some favoritism going on here,” Silver said. “Only be done if public health officials determine on balance it was the right time to vaccinate our players.”

Just because Silver isn’t necessarily courting favoritism doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be favoritism. That’s far too often how it works: Rich and powerful people get preferential treatment without even always needing to explicitly lobby for it.

Not only are NBA players rich, they’re also young, generally healthy and disproportionately naturally immune. They should NOT be prioritized for the vaccine. Shame on any public-health figures who suggest otherwise.

The goal should be (1) vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible while (2) prioritizing people at the highest risk of severe coronavirus outcomes – except to the extent the latter significantly impedes the former.

There are major inequities with healthcare in this country. Black people do have understandable historic reason to be skeptical of vaccines.

But NBA players vouching for the vaccine wouldn’t fix those far-deeper issues. Plus, some players wouldn’t get it, which could sow further mistrust – the exact opposite of the reason they could be prioritized.

We are in the midst of a crisis. People are dying every day. Time is of the essence. Every person who gets vaccinated makes it safer for everyone else by eliminating a transmission point.  Prioritizing certain groups – especially beyond age (which is simple to verify and correlates highly with risk of severe outcomes) – only slows the process of getting shots in arms.

There aren’t enough vaccines yet for everyone in higher-risk groups who wants one. It’d be ludicrous to divert vaccines from those people to NBA players. Not only because of the actual dosage being used, but because of the energy necessary to set up that special project. Government officials deliberating whether NBA players or NFL players or Major League Baseball players or college football and basketball players or women college athletes or entertainers or…. should get the vaccine is time not spent fixing the actual bungled vaccine rollout.

I wouldn’t begrudge NBA players for getting the vaccine if offered to them. Once vaccinated, it’d be great if they want to extoll the value of vaccination to other people. Just as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did.

But he’s 73 and was due up. There are many more senior citizens like him who also want vaccines and can’t yet get them. Masses of people of people wait behind them.

Public-health officials ought to worry more about public health than giving the NBA special treatment.