Mets trying to educate hesitant players on COVID-19 vaccine benefits

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PHILADELPHIA — The Mets find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and they’re working toward erasing that.

Isn’t that the most pragmatic way to view team-wide distribution of the coronavirus vaccine?

Team president Sandy Alderson acknowledged on Monday, hours before the Mets finally began their season by taking on the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, that “there has been some hesitation on the part of some players” to get vaccinated, and therefore Tuesday will include some homework. From their hotels, via Zoom, the Mets’ traveling party will meet with an independent medical expert who will preach the benefits of inoculating oneself against the disease that has killed over 550,000 Americans and infected over 30 million in the past year-plus.

In the hopes that will convert some of the hesitant, the Mets will schedule vaccinations on Thursday at Citi Field following their home opener against the Marlins, giving them Friday’s off day to recover from the standard sore arms and any other side effects.

“We want to get as many players vaccinated as possible,” Alderson said. “I think that’s in the best interests of the team. It’s in the best interests of their families. It’s in the best interests of those who work with the players. So I hope that in addition to their own personal medical considerations that they take all of those things into consideration as well. We’re hopeful they will.”

Alderson, 73, already has been vaccinated, he said, and Mets manager Luis Rojas, 39, said he’ll get his first of two shots on Thursday. Over the weekend as they practiced at Nationals Park to stay loose in the wake of a Nats COVID outbreak postponing the season-opening series, the Mets made a pair of players, J.D. Davis and Michael Conforto, available to the media on Zoom. Both guys reacted to questions about vaccinations with the sort of awkwardness and discomfort you typically see only in the first act of a teen sex comedy.

The problem with such a reaction comes in the realities of this situation: Major League Baseball correctly has incentivized clubs to acquire the vaccines. If a team attains 85 percent vaccination among its traveling party (players, coaches and staff), then it gains some major privileges within the league’s strict health and safety protocols, among them no longer needing to wear masks in dugouts and bullpens, being allowed to eat indoors at restaurants and, relevant to the mess in which the Nats find themselves, the vaccinated players no longer need to worry about contact tracing and the subsequent quarantining if someone on the club does get the virus.

The St. Louis Cardinals, to name one team, have reached this threshold and reaped the rewards as well as this reality: They’re far less likely to experience an outbreak. Perhaps last year’s outbreak, which got 10 players sick, informed their urgency.

“I‘m hopeful that we will get a large number of our players vaccinated, as well as our additional traveling party,” Alderson said. “There are incentives for public health. There are incentives … to lift the kind of restrictions they’re faced with now. So there are lots of reasons and hopefully we’ll get as many players vaccinated as possible.”

Even if you don’t care about society at large, a pandemic in and of itself at the moment, surely Mets fans look at the Nationals, who will start their season Tuesday night severely undermanned thanks to four players testing positive and seven more (plus two staff members) being quarantined due to close contact, and want no part of that. Want their team to optimize its talent by respecting both the coronavirus and its pharmaceutical nemesis.

“We know it’s a voluntary decision,” Rojas said. “I know there’s been some hesitation, and that’s OK to have the hesitation. But to have the educational session [Tuesday] and be more encouraged towards getting it, I think, is one of the intentions we have behind the process.”

If they succeed, no matter what happens beyond, it’ll be the Mets’ biggest win of the season.

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