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Lagging In COVID Vaccinations, MN Vikings Bring In Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Osterholm To Talk To Players

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Minnesota Vikings organization brought in Dr. Michael Osterholm, a renowned epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, to talk with the team Monday.

NFL Network's Tom Pelissero first reported the news Monday, which comes as the team's COVID-19 vaccination rate has lagged behind other NFL teams. Osterholm has been pushing vaccinations as COVID-19's Delta variant continues to spread, saying the virus will catch up with people who are unvaccinated.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said Osterholm did "a terrific job" at a press conference Monday.

"I thought he was very good with his points, answered a lot of questions. Whether or not that changes anything, I don't know," Zimmer said. "I care about these players and I care about their families, and so that's my main reason. If they miss a game because they get COVID, so be it. But I don't want them to get sick and I don't want their families to get sick and their kids to get sick or my grandkids to get sick."

Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala reported earlier this month that the team had the lowest vaccination rate of any NFL team, with 64.5% of Vikings players fully vaccinated and 70% with at least one shot. At that time, 90% of NFL players were at least partially vaccinated.

In June, Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith and Sheldon Richardson all told the press they were not vaccinated. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has said he chooses "to keep my medical history private."

Cousins and three other players were put on the reserve/COVID-19 list in early August. When Cousins returned, he said he was placed on the list due to the small size of the team's quarterback meeting room. He said he was deemed a close contact to rookie quarterback Kellen Mond, who tested positive for the virus.

Cousins refused to disclose his vaccination status, saying that he's following "protocols."

NFL: JUL 29 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
EAGAN, MN - JULY 29: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass during training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan, MN on July 29, 2021.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

"The protocols work, masks works, social distancing works," he said. "I'm at peace with where I'm at and I'll follow the protocols vigilantly."

In addition to specifically mentioning wearing masks and social distancing, Cousins said he's "even thought about, should I just set up literally Plexiglas around where I sit?"

Head coach Mike Zimmer has repeatedly expressed frustration with players who have refused the vaccine, especially as the highly-contagious Delta variant spreads in Minnesota and across the country.

"I just don't understand," he said at the time. "I think we could put this thing to bed if we'd all do this, but it is what it is."

According to a statement released by the Vikings, the reserve/COVID-19 list was created for players who either tested positive for the virus or who are in quarantine after having been in close contact with an infected person or people.

If a player is under those circumstances, the team is required to immediately place them on reserve. However, teams are not permitted by NFL policy to comment on a player's medical status or disclose whether or not a player tested positive or is in quarantine.

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