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Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon lashes out at NFLPA over NFL’s vaccination policy

Linebacker Matt Judon signed with the Patriots in the offseason.Steven Senne/Associated Press

The NFL’s newly announced vaccination policy doesn’t force players and team staff members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or reach the 85 percent threshold for relaxation of COVID protocols. But the message to all NFL teams is clear: not being vaccinated could carry significant consequences for your team.

Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon is blaming the NFL Players Association for agreeing to the rules.

Judon blasted the NFLPA in a tweet Thursday. His comments made headlines alongside those of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who said in a now-deleted tweet he might question his NFL future if forced to get the COVID vaccine.

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The Patriots edge rusher went back and forth with Twitter users about his comments, repeatedly saying he was upset with the union and not about vaccination. In fact, Judon mentioned he is vaccinated.

Judon’s ire is aimed at guidelines agreed to by the league and the NFLPA that are meant to incentivize higher vaccination rates among teams and discourage opposition to the vaccine.

Teams that suffer COVID outbreaks among unvaccinated players may have to forfeit games if the contests can’t be reasonably re-scheduled during the normal 18-game season, the NFL announced Thursday. The NFL says it does not expect to add an additional Week 19 to account for possible makeup games.

Forfeiting teams also would be responsible for financial losses incurred by the cancellations. Additionally, players from both teams would not receive checks for canceled games.

Unvaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 must continue to isolate for 10 days regardless of whether they are symptomatic. Vaccinated individuals who test positive for COVID and are asymptomatic “can return to duty after two negative tests 24 hours apart,” the NFL said.

The NFL’s heavy incentivization for receiving the COVID vaccine comes in light of government data from recent months showing that more than 97 percent of COVID-related hospitalizations and 99 percent of COVID deaths now occur in unvaccinated individuals.

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By contrast, an Associated Press breakdown of the data in May showed “breakthrough” infections — COVID cases occurring in fully vaccinated individuals — accounted for just 1.1 percent of COVID hospitalizations (fewer than 1,200 out of 107,000) and 0.8 percent of deaths (about 150 out of more than 18,000) in May.

“We know that vaccines are safe and effective and are the best step anyone can take to be safe against the coronavirus,” the NFL’s memo reads. The statement also notes breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals “tend to be mild, and people recover from the infection relatively quickly.”

The NFLPA sent its own memo responding to the criticism, noting that the “same basic rules applied last year” during the height of the pandemic. The main difference, it noted, was the imposition of penalties on clubs for outbreaks among unvaccinated individuals.

“The protocols we jointly agreed to helped get us through a full season last year without missing game checks and are effective, when followed,” the NFLPA Players Affairs team wrote.

It is unknown whether the Patriots are among the 16 NFL teams over the 85 percent vaccination threshold for relaxing COVID protocols. The team has not offered specific figures, though a league source told PFF that the team’s vaccination rate is “high.”