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Aaron Rodgers’ COVID-19 saga, explained

“At the time, my plan was to say I was immunized. It wasn’t some sort of ruse or lie. It was the truth.”

Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Friday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a surprise appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, a live talk show that Rodgers typically joins on Tuesdays. While the Packers were having practice, Rodgers told McAfee and his former teammate A.J. Hawk that he’s “doing really well,” the first update on Rodgers’ health since he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.

Many questions have popped up around Rodgers’ vaccination status since NFL Network reported that he would be held out of the facility for 10 days following his single positive COVID test, a policy that is only in place for unvaccinated players. His unvaccinated status brought up questions as to if the Packers broke league protocol by allowing an unvaccinated player to do press conferences indoors without a mask, which in part has started a league investigation into the program. According to Fox’s Jay Glazer, the league’s investigation will not result in a suspension of Rodgers, but simply fines for either he or the franchise. Glazer did not mention if the team would potentially have to forfeit draft picks based on what the league finds in its investigation. For reference, the NFL fined the New Orleans Saints $700,000 and made the team forfeit their 2022 sixth-round pick for 2020 COVID protocol violations.

When asked by reporters if he was vaccinated upon his return to Green Bay after #RodgersWatch2021, the quarterback stated, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.” Since then, we have learned that the league has considered him an unvaccinated player after the NFL turned down his appeal to qualify as vaccinated in the eyes of the shield. As Nick Shook of NFL.com wrote, “The players’ union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league agreed that Rodgers’ treatment did not provide any documented protection from the coronavirus.”

The reason Rodgers’ vaccination status has become a headline in November was that “immunized” quote, which misled the media into reporting that he was vaccinated, coupled with the fact that he was unmasked in the public-facing media room. For context, wide receiver Allen Lazard, another unvaccinated Packers player, has been doing media availability on Zoom rather than in-person all season. On the topic of Rodgers’ “immunized” statement, the quarterback stated, “At the time, my plan was to say I was immunized. It wasn’t some sort of ruse or lie. It was the truth.”

Rodgers would later explain that he petitioned the league to count him as a vaccinated player due to the NFL and NFLPA’s mutually agreed upon “draconian measures” that unvaccinated players must adhere to. He and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur have been adamant that the team has followed all other league protocols up to this point. Yesterday, LaFleur clarified that the team has followed all rules in the “football spaces,” but that “I don’t pay attention to the media rules.”

Since that statement, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer has confirmed that a maskless unvaccinated player participating in indoor press conferences is a violation of the league’s protocol, due to the league’s stipulation that unvaccinated players must be masked at all times while they’re in the team facility. Some grey areas possibly arise from the joint NFL-NFLPA Covid Protocols, as they did not clearly state anywhere in the “Media Protocol for the 2021 Regular Season” about the media policy for unvaccinated players, with that section of the document only focusing on how the media should be handled.

Rodgers’ initial explanation for not wanting to get any of the league’s three approved vaccination methods are transcribed below:

“In the beginning, it was pretty easy to eliminate two of them and it didn’t involve going into the questionable history of some of their criminal activities and fraud cases or any of that stuff. It was simply the fact that I have an allergy to an ingredient that’s in the mRNA vaccines...So my only option was the Johnson & Johnson. At this time, in the early spring, I had heard of multiple people who had adverse events around getting the J&J. No deaths or anything but just some really difficult times and physical abnormalities around the J&J shot. Then in April, the J&J shot got pulled for clotting issues, if you remember that. So the J&J shot was not even an option at that point. Then my options became ‘Okay, what can I do to protect myself and my teammates if there’s not one of the big three options in my own body?’ So I looked into and talked, again, to a lot of medical individuals and professionals and found that there was an immunization protocol that I could go to to best protect myself and my teammates and it was a long-term protocol that involved multiple months and I’m very proud of the research that went into that and the individuals I met with and we felt like it was what was best for me.”

The NFL still accepts the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as an approved method for vaccination, which likely explains why Rodgers’ vaccination exemption was not approved by the league, even if he could prove that he was allergic to mRNA vaccines. He would later state, “My medical team advised me that the danger I would be in of an adverse event was greater than the risk of getting Covid and recovering.”

In terms of the risk of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that anaphylaxis may occur during any vaccination, which is why medical professionals watch over the recently vaccinated for about 15 minutes following the jab, but that “women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare but increased risk” of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, which has occurred after 48 of 15.5 million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations up to Oct. 27th of this year.

Another explanation for why Rodgers was hesitant to vaccinate was later mentioned in his interview with McAfee and Hawk, though. Rodgers stated, “The next great chapter in my life is being a father and it’s something I care about a lot. To my knowledge, there’s zero long-term studies around sterility or fertility issues around the vaccines, so that was definitely something I was worried about.”

The University of Missouri has published an article where two MDs, one a family doctor and another a reproductive endocrinologist, state there is no reason to assume that the coronavirus vaccinations would impact male or female infertility. The reproductive endocrinologist stated, “Statements linking COVID-19 vaccines to female infertility are currently speculative at best,” and, “Men who are worried about their fertility should probably get the COVID-19 vaccine as there are some concerns about the potential effect of COVID-19 disease on male fertility.”

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also claimed in a journal article published in March that “No evidence for any effects on fertility with vaccine administration have been reported from Pfizer, Moderna, or Janssen. At this time, there is no long-term data regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, and so it is essential to educate the public that there is no current evidence, nor any valid theories to suggest any credible risk of male or female infertility with COVID-19 vaccine administration. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) also specifically states that the mRNA vaccines “are not thought to cause an increased risk of infertility, first or second trimester loss, stillbirth, or congenital anomalies.”

On the topic of Rodgers’ method of “immunization,” the quarterback stated, “I have been taking monoclonal antibodies, ivermectin, zinc, vitamin C and D, and HCQ.” HCQ is typically known under another name: hydroxychloroquine.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration states ivermectin is “not authorized or approved... for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.” They also claim “Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.”

The National Institutes of Health posted an article in November of 2020 that states that hydroxychloroquine “gained attention when early reports suggested it might benefit COVID-19 patients. These reports were based on preliminary studies in cells and small studies of COVID-19 patients that lacked control groups.” The Food & Drug Administration temporarily allowed for the emergency authorization of the drug and launched a study that spanned from April to June of 2020 before “interim results showed the drug neither caused harm nor improved patient outcomes.”

Rodgers would later state, “Why do people hate ivermectin? Not just because [former president Donald] Trump championed it, because it’s a cheap generic. Can’t make any money off of it, but it’s been used a billion times in India. Go look at that research. What’s going on over there?”

Business Insider covered why seven ivermectin studies that many might reference were flawed in an article posted in October of 2021. Some of the studies frequently referenced to prove the validity of ivermectin to prevent and cure COVID have been scrutinized for reasons ranging from data concerns, to apparent copy-paste jobs, to a lack of control groups, including potentially the very same studies from India that Rodgers may be referencing. India Today, the country’s most widely circulated magazine, has since reported that both ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine have been “removed from India’s Covid-19 treatment protocol” after scientific documentation “found that these drugs have little to no effect on Covid-related mortality or clinical recovery of the patient.”

Rodgers also questioned just how science-based the league’s protocols are.

“The great MLK said you have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that make no sense. I test every single day. Every single day. So, we play in Arizona on Thursday. Guys leave for the weekend. I don’t. We test every single day...And you want me to wear a mask just to shame me that I’m not vaccinated to continue to perpetuate a story that I’m not vaccinated in a room where the only way you can get in that room is if you’re fully vaccinated against a virus that I don’t have as a non-vaccinated person. Not to mention, you’re sitting more than six feet away from me, in most cases at least 20 feet away from me. Where’s the science in that? Where’s the science in that that says ‘That makes perfect sense.’ So it was my opinion that that wasn’t rooted in any science. Every other protocol I followed to a T.”

The Martin Luther King quote was paraphrased from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a document King wrote after he was arrested for marching during a ban on demonstrations in Alabama occurring at the same time in which civil rights leaders were coordinating marches and sit-ins to protest segregation.

The final major piece of information that Rodgers disclosed in his interview with McAfee was that a league doctor claimed that a player could not contract the virus if the player was vaccinated, which the CDC states is not true. The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones has reported that Rodgers never talked to a league doctor or an NFL-NFLPA jointly appointed infectious disease expert, despite the league offering counsel.

ESPN’s Rob Demovsky has reported that Rodgers’ name was never even included during his application for a vaccine exemption, as it was submitted anonymously. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio tweeted that the league has stated, “No doctor from the league or the joint NFL-NFLPA infectious disease consultants communicated with the player. If they had, they certainly would have never said anything like that.”