MLB and the MLB Players Association are hoping inducements lead to inoculations.
In a joint memo distributed to teams on Monday, the league and union stated that fully vaccinated personnel and teams that reach 85 percent vaccination of its Tier 1 members (players and those who come into close contact with players such as coaches, managers, trainers, etc.) would have protocol restrictions loosened.
The league and the union are not mandating that all Tier 1 personnel get vaccinated, but the memo states that, “All players and staff are strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines where eligible.”
Both entities have received enough anecdotal information to know that there will not be 100 percent buy-in as certain personnel balk for religious, political or medical reasons. But they recognize that the personnel have felt extremely restricted by the protocols that covered last year’s shortened season and this year’s return to a normal-length spring training and planned 162-game season. So the hope is to incentivize those who could be convinced otherwise by either the greater freedoms or the peer pressure for the group to regain those freedoms.
Neither MLB nor the union has provided the percentage of inoculated personnel to date.
Astros manager Dusty Baker announced that the plan for his club was to fly from spring training in Florida, make a pit stop in Texas where beginning Monday all adults were eligible for a shot and then fly to Oakland to begin the season, which opens Thursday. One executive voiced concern about his team receiving vaccines en masse for fear that a few could have side effects and impact the readiness of the team to play in the days following the shot.
Among the protocol-relaxing inducements beginning two weeks after personnel are vaccinated or clubs reach 85 percent of vaccinated Tier 1 personnel include:
— Vaccinated personnel may gather in hotel rooms and other indoor spaces with other vaccinated personnel without masks. This does not include club facilities such as clubhouses.
— Vaccinated personnel can have vaccinated family members (and non-vaccinated minors) stay with them in team hotels on the road.
— Vaccinated personnel no longer have to wear masks in weight rooms as long there are no non-vaccinated personnel in proximity.
— Vaccinated personnel who have close contact with a COVID–19 positive no longer have to quarantine unless there are symptoms.
— Vaccinated personnel no longer would be required to alert team compliance officers when leaving the hotel on the road.
— Teams that achieve 85 percent vaccinated for Tier 1 personnel can remove masks in dugouts and bullpens, and can stop using tracking devices to check for close Covid contacts.