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NFL: Team employees who refuse vaccination without 'bona fide' reason barred from restricted areas

As the vaccination effort continues across the United States, the NFL is adopting the latest measures to improve and ensure the safety of those working within the league.

In a Tuesday memo obtained by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the league informed clubs their Tier 1 and 2 employees (excluding players) "should be expected to be vaccinated unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so." Those who refuse vaccination without either a religious or medical reason will not be eligible for Tier 1 or 2 status "and therefore will not be permitted access to the 'football only' restricted area and may not work directly or in close proximity with players," per the memo.

The league added it anticipates relaxing various aspects of the protocols implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e., close contact quarantine, restrictions regarding locker room, meetings and cafeteria use and testing cadence) for vaccinated individuals.

Efforts are underway across the nation to encourage vaccination and properly inform those who have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. With Tuesday's memo, the NFL is taking an active role in these efforts. The NFL and NFLPA have maintained they will not require players to be vaccinated, but as Pelissero noted during Tuesday's edition of NFL NOW, while it is relatively early in the offseason, the league could be approaching an environment in which employees are operating under two different sets of rules -- one for those vaccinated, and one for those who are not -- with relaxed health and safety requirements for one, and very stringent measures similar to what the league operated under in the 2020 season for the other.

On a related note, the league and NFLPA continue to have discussions about what form offseason programs will take as they approach Monday's scheduled start, Pelissero reported. The union has maintained it wants an all-virtual offseason similar to what the league completed in 2020, urging all players to boycott otherwise. All offseason activities prior to June's mandatory minicamp are voluntary, with training camp also being mandatory.

The memo also stated the league expects teams to schedule and participate in vaccine information sessions for players, families and staff in order to use such sessions as an opportunity to address concerns or a need for further information, particularly among players and family members.

"The overwhelming consensus among medical and public health experts is that the most effective way for someone to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19 -- and the risk of infecting others -- is to be vaccinated," the league stated in the memo. "Our medical team has worked closely with the NFLPA medical advisors to develop comprehensive education material that reinforces this conclusion and addresses the safety and effectiveness of available vaccines."

The league expects clubs to educate its employees and communicate to them the work-related benefits of vaccination, with one major one being able to access the football-only areas of the facility, as well as bypass testing, tracking device and quarantine requirements. NFL clubs are also expected to report on a weekly basis the number of employees who have been vaccinated, adding it is "actively discussing with the NFLPA a set of protocol changes that would apply to clubs where vaccination levels reach a certain threshold and would give vaccinated individuals significant relief from requirements related to testing, PPE use, physical distancing, travel and other subjects."

"Similar protocol chances have been adopted in other sports leagues and the prospect of relaxing COVID protocols in the NFL should help encourage players and staff to be vaccinated," the league said in the memo.

The NFL is also attempting to help the general public achieve a safer future by expecting all clubs to use their stadiums or training facilities as vaccination sites for club staff, players and eligible family members, encouraging vaccination days or available appointments on a convenient and regular basis in order to facilitate mass vaccination within the league. The NFL expects its clubs to update the league office of their plans in this respect and provide the league with a percentage of tiered staff vaccinated by April 19, per the memo.

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