The following story, written by John Frierson, was originally published on georgiadogs.com.
Led by Ron Courson, Georgia's Executive Associate Athletic Director and a national leader in the field of sports medicine, the UGA Athletic Association hosted a COVID-19 vaccine education town hall zoom meeting this week for student-athletes and their families, as well as Bulldog coaches and staff.
In addition to Courson, who was Georgia's representative on the SEC's Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force last year, four physicians with COVID-19 expertise participated in the meeting: Dr. Willie Underwood III; Dr. Nick Fox; Dr. Anson Wurapa; and Dr. Stephen Goggans.
Before the meeting, the UGAAA sent out surveys to its student-athletes, their parents or guardians, as well as Georgia staff, seeking questions anyone had for the medical panel to address. As the coronavirus vaccine becomes more widely available, J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Josh Brooks said, gathering as much information as possible about it is critical.
"Education about the vaccine is very important, and we as an association have a responsibility to provide our student-athletes, staff and coaches with the very best information from medical professionals so that everyone can consider their options based on all information available," Brooks said. "The program that Ron Courson put together was a great resource for our department to allow everyone to be informed about the vaccine."
The UGA Athletic Association will not require that all student-athletes and staff receive the vaccine, but "we will provide it to anyone who would like to have it when it is available," Courson said during the meeting.
The shortest question put to the doctors was, in all likelihood, the most important, as individuals weigh whether or not to receive the vaccine: is the vaccine safe?
"The short answer is, yes, it is safe," said Goggans, an assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at Georgia Regents University and the District Health Director with the Georgia Department of Public Health. "And I'm very glad to be able to say that and say it with some confidence."
The vaccines have all been tested in very large trials in which tens of thousands of people have been observed very closely, Goggans said. "And what we've seen is that they have an excellent safety profile across a large, diverse group of people."
Courson said "a very common" question from Georgia's student-athletes was how the vaccine might impact athletic performance. The side effects that any athlete might experience are the same as anyone else: a sore arm from the shot itself, fatigue or muscle soreness.
"Not everybody gets those side effects or symptoms, but we would expect that within a day or two that you would have no lasting athletic performance effects from the vaccine whatsoever," said Fox, a pulmonary and critical care physician in Athens and the UGA athletics COVID-19 Director.
On the question of whether vaccinated individuals will need follow-up vaccinations in the future, Underwood said that is an unknown at this time. Just as at the moment it's unknown how long these initial vaccines last. At present, it's been observed that they're good for three or four months, with more observation on early recipients to come.
"The longer it lasts, the less likely it is we will need additional shots down the road," he said.
As the vaccines have been introduced in the past few months, new variants of the virus have been emerging at the same time. The four main variants right now, Fox said, are the ones discovered in the UK, Brazil, South Africa and California. And some of those have been seen in Georgia.
"We still need more information about the variants because they are relatively new, but the vaccines do seem to protect us against the variants in some form compared to not being vaccinated," Fox said. "We also know that, maybe more importantly, it appears that it prevents those that have been vaccinated from getting the severe disease of COVID, meaning hospitalized or death."
The three vaccines that are currently available in the United States - Pfizer, Moderna and the recently approved Johnson & Johnson one-shot version - are all about the same, Underwood said. Their effectiveness ranges from 85-95% at preventing the disease, and all of them have proven 100% effective "at preventing deaths from COVID and at preventing severe effects such as hospitalization and being in the intensive-care unit and stuff like that," Underwood said.
Some female student-athletes have asked about how the vaccine might pregnancy or a woman's future fertility. Wurapa, an attending physician and infectious disease specialist who is a member of the COVID-19 management team at Emory Hillandale, Emory Decatur and Piedmont Rockdale hospitals, said "there's been no impact seen" to this point.
In the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials, a small number of women in each became pregnant while doing the trial, and "there was no difference seen in those women in terms of side effects," he said. Wurapa added that this will be an ongoing area of observation because the data sample at this point is so small.
Whether or not anyone gets the vaccine is an individual decision, Fox said in his closing remarks, but it's an individual decision that "does tend to affect friends and loved ones and even teammates. It's something to think about, not only for yourself but those you're around."