TENNIS

Unvaccinated fans can attend the US Open. Why can’t Novak Djokovic?

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Fresh off his historic victory at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic is hoping to compete at the upcoming US Open for his 22nd Grand Slam, which would bring him closer to Rafael Nadal for the most in history.

Unfortunately, the world’s greatest tennis player seems unlikely to make the move. Although the Serbian star looked completely healthy in his four-set victory over Australian Nick Kyrgios in England, current COVID-19 protocols are likely to prevent Djokovic from playing.

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“I’m not vaccinated and I don’t plan to get vaccinated,” Djokovic said after his Wimbledon win.

Djokovic has been banned from playing in many tournaments in 2022, including the Australian Open in January, due to his vaccination status. But he was cleared to play at Wimbledon because the UK had no travel restrictions regarding coronavirus vaccination, and organizers at the All England Club announced in April that vaccination would not be compulsory.

In the United States, it’s a different story.

US policy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that “noncitizens who are not immigrants and who seek to enter the United States by air must show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States from a foreign country.”

Due to these travel restrictions, Djokovic seems unlikely to play at the Open in August, although there are no local restrictions preventing him from doing so. Some players say it’s unfair for Djokovic and bad for the game.

“I think seeing the strongest player in history come out of the top 20 at the end of the year is not good for tennis,” Italian star Flavio Cobolli said in a recent interview. “In my opinion, it’s fair to let him play in America.”

While Djokovic’s absence would undoubtedly be bad for the game, it also doesn’t make sense from a public health perspective.

First of all, it’s worth noting that Djokovic got COVID-19 in December. Many sports organizations, including the NCAA, recognize prior infection as a form of immunization, and rightly so. Extensive scientific evidence shows that natural immunity provides as much protection as vaccination alone, if not more.

A recent study led by Cornell University, for example, found that people who were previously infected saw “little drop in protection, even one year after their previous infection”. Their level of protection was higher than that of people who received two Pfizer injections and a booster. Importantly, the study found that vaccines and natural immunity provide “strong and long-lasting protection” against COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.

These and other findings point to a simple reality: natural immunity and vaccination offer significant protection against COVID, especially against a severe symptomatic reaction.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 10: Novak Djokovic (R) of Serbia shakes hands with Nick Kyrgios of Australia as he holds the Men’s Singles trophy at The Championships – Wimbledon 2022 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 10, 2022 in London, England.
David Gray/Getty Images

Second, it should be noted that spectators are allowed to attend The Open regardless of their vaccination status.

“At this time, ticket holders will not be required to show proof of COVID vaccination for admission to the US Open,” the official website for the event reads.

In other words, fans can attend the US Open even if they didn’t get the hang of it, but the world’s biggest tennis star won’t be able to set foot in the country.

How we got here is no mystery. Vaccination has become one of the most partisan and politicized issues in the world today. People around the world (not just Americans) were divided on vaccines – not on whether they should be available or even if they are safe and effective, but on whether it was acceptable to force people to take them.

Forced vaccination has always been problematic because it violates a basic human right: bodily autonomy. But in light of abundant research showing the strength and durability of natural immunity, vaccine mandates don’t just seem morally dubious; they look insane.

This helps explain why efforts to compel vaccination are failing around the world.

Weeks after its law requiring citizens to get vaccinated (or pay fines) came into effect, Austria suspended the ordinance. A few days later, France joined the European trend of abolishing vaccine passports. Cities across the United States — from Philadelphia to Minneapolis and beyond — have dropped vaccination mandates. And just last week, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced he was scrapping vaccine requirements for college students and employees.

The trend is clear: Vaccination mandates are failing.

Bureaucrats in DC are another matter. They have been much slower and more reluctant to abandon COVID restrictions, and have much less incentive to do so.

Thankfully, the political pressure – the one thing DC seems to pay attention to – is starting to mount. As the US Open approaches, more and more people are singing the same tune: Djokovic should be allowed to enter the United States and play.

“These politicians are too much of a nuisance,” tennis legend and TV commentator John McEnroe recently said. “Let the guy come in and play in the States, I mean come on. It’s ridiculous.”

He is right, in more ways than one.

Jon Miltimore is editor of FEE.org, the online portal of the Foundation for Economic Education.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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