As the Southern Miss football team approaches the start of its season, the team is close to becoming fully vaccinated. Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain announced in an interview on the 4th Street Sports Show that the team will surpass a 90% vaccination rate once some players receive their second doses.
“I’m excited about it,” McClain said. “It gives us an opportunity to go and compete. We can’t just dismiss what’s happening, but it gives us a layer of protection that is really important.”
Head Coach Will Hall noted that his staff is nearly “100%” vaccinated.
Southern Miss’s vaccination milestone comes as the country suffers a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases due to the transmission of the Delta variant. Mississippi has been one of the hardest-hit states by the recent wave of the virus, recording a seven-day average of nearly 3,500 new cases per day as of Aug. 18. According to Mayo Clinic, Mississippi also has the third-lowest percentage (44%) of population with at least one dose of the vaccine.
McClain and Hall attributed the team’s vaccination rate to the team’s effort to educate each other on the topic.
“Over the past month, we’ve about doubled our [vaccination] numbers,” Hall said.
“We’re feeding them [the team] information from professors, doctors, we’ve had people come in with family stories and coaching staff members [to educate] them on stories of their experiences with it. Most importantly, those are just stories. The facts that were given are coming from medical people.”
McClain said the inclusion of medical experts was important to help players avoid misinformation about the vaccines.
“People make their own decisions, but one of the things that was important with our program was to give the right information, so we brought those medical experts in to talk face-to-face with them and ask questions,” McClain said.
Last season, Southern Miss had four games impacted due to COVID-19 issues, three of which stemmed from positive cases on the team. Redshirt freshman linebacker TQ Newsome, who got COVID in February, said he got vaccinated to protect others, including his teammates.
“I just want to do my part, and everyone has gotten on board and is doing their part,” Newsome said. “It’s really about doing it for your team — it’s an altruistic motive. Everyone understands the mission is to win a championship, and we can’t do that without everybody.”
During the entirety of last year’s sports schedule, Conference USA required players to receive three COVID-19 tests each weekNow, McClain said that only unvaccinated players will have to go through those testing protocols.
“From a student-athlete perspective, it’s an encouragement to be vaccinated, unless you have reasons not to be, so [you] don’t have to go through the testing protocols,” McClain said.
McClain noted that the circumstances of testing protocols could change throughout the season.
Other football teams have also pushed vaccination efforts as the fall season approaches, including state neighbor Ole Miss. In a press conference on Aug. 8, Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin said that the entire team, including staff, were fully vaccinated.
Hall said that he hopes the team soon reaches the same status.
“We hope to get them all [vaccines] done, and we feel good about where we’re headed with,” Hall said.