News & Politics

NCAA Backflips on Natural Immunity, Says Athletes Who Had COVID Now Considered Vaccinated

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Natural immunity from getting a COVID infection will now count as “fully vaccinated” according to new NCAA guidelines for college athletes.

According to ESPN, the organization’s definition of “fully vaccinated individuals” has been expanded from those “within two months of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, five months of receiving the Pfizer vaccine series or six months of receiving the Moderna vaccine series” (and those who have been boosted) to include athletes “within 90 days of a documented COVID-19 infection.”

I’ll get to why that’s vital in just a moment, but first, let’s take a quick look at the rest of the details.

The NCAA still suggests — but apparently does not require — a five-day quarantine period following a positive test and wearing a mask for five more days.

There, the NCAA is basically just parroting the latest CDC guidance. It’s become so difficult to tell what the CDC really wants people to do (and whether or not the guidance even makes sense) that CNET felt the need to publish an explainer piece on Tuesday.

It’s headlined “How to make sense of the CDC’s new quarantine guidance.”

You know things are a confusing mess when our own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can’t make simple instructions plain — but after the last two years, we’re all pretty much used to that.

Now for the part we’re only supposed to whisper: COVID vaccinations for hard-playing athletes remain controversial.

A recent fact-check piece by Sarah Thompson at Lead Stories looked at that famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) internet list of young athletes around the world who suffered sudden collapses, heart conditions, heart attacks, or even deaths on the field.

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Alarming in and of itself, the list however is woefully incomplete. “Both lists and linked articles,” Thompson writes, “rarely provide information about medical findings or link the cause to a COVID vaccine, and lack information on whether these athletes were even vaccinated.”

Thompson also quotes a 2016 article — long before COVID or COVID vaccines — from Methodist Debakey Cardiovascular Journal:

Though exercise is, in general, health-promoting, it is associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death for a small number of individuals who harbor cardiac conditions.

Sudden cardiac death is the most common medical cause of death in athletes, with an incidence of around 1 in 40,000 to 1 in 80,000 athletes per year according to the most recent estimates.

The risk and causes of sudden cardiac death vary based upon the athlete population. Male gender, black race, and basketball participation all place an athlete at higher risk. Sudden cardiac death in younger athletes (< 35 years) is commonly due to inherited cardiac conditions.

While tragic, this kind of thing is nothing new.

But if college athletes are already at low risk of life-threatening COVID infections and suffer a slightly elevated risk for a sudden cardiac event, why take a chance on a vaccination that could potentially exacerbate the cardiac risk?

While the NCAA doesn’t explicitly raise that question, the organization’s revised guidance indicates that they have at least taken it into account.