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The Big Shots: Toronto FC’s vaccination campaign is underway in Orlando

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In a season full of irregularities, the team has taken the first step towards a return to normality under the Florida sun with the specter of what could be still looming large. 

Leon v Toronto - Concacaf Champions League 2021 Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images

After their 1-1 draw in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League matchup against Club León on Wednesday, Toronto FC will be arriving “home” to some encouraging news: members of the TFC camp have begun receiving their COVID-19 vaccines.

Last week, TFC General Manger Ali Curtis mentioned that the club had undergone “positive conversations” with officials in Florida, setting the team up to begin receiving their vaccines this week.

On Tuesday, Curtis announced that the process was already underway and that the first group of TFC personnel had received their first dose, with the GM being one of “six to eight” to get their shot in Florida on Saturday.

Non-travelling players and staff were set to be vaccinated on Tuesday, with the rest of the players and staff getting their opportunity on Friday upon their return from Mexico.

This will be a sigh of relief for an organization that has already had their own run-in with COVID-19 and the team will know well that a situation with the virus has the potential to spin out of control quite quickly even if the proper precautions are taken.

As Tej Sahota previously wrote for Waking the Red, Toronto FC have been under operation in their new Florida digs with the knowledge that cases of COVID-19 are very likely to occur within the camp and have been looking to do all they can to minimize that risk. This opportunity to get their players and staff vaccinated in Florida due to the differing regulations than they’d face back in Canada will be a massive step towards safeguarding the TFC camp.

Despite organizations taking extensive steps to combat the virus, the threat of COVID tearing through a team is still very real and unfortunately, that threat has become a reality for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks are in the midst of one of the worst outbreaks in North American professional sports, having over 20 players and staff contract the virus or a variant (tweets with accurate case counts have been quickly outdated recently), with reports of many within the team requiring IVs and passing the virus on to their families.

With the situation rapidly changing as the virus rapidly spreads, the NHL has postponed a number of the Canucks’ upcoming games. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported earlier in the outbreak that “the NHL is now proceeding on the assumption that essentially the whole Canucks team will likely test positive”.

The Canucks players and a percentage of their staff have not yet qualified to be vaccinated in Canada as the rollout looks vastly different than the one in the United States. Their situation should offer a stark reminder to TFC and to all sporting clubs (ahem, Texas Rangers) that COVID-19 will take the smallest opportunity to find its way in to cause harm and to spread rapidly to the unvaccinated. It also offers the reminder that despite being over a year into the pandemic, we don’t yet know what to fully expect from some of these new variants being seen.

Time is of the essence in getting those in close-contact workplaces like these vaccinated and Toronto FC have taken a crucial first step here. However, the club’s plan to make vaccinations available to all players and staff will not be met with universal positivity, as veteran Nick DeLeon will certainly tell you.

DeLeon, 30, recently spoke candidly about his aversion to pharmaceutical medicine and vaccines and his refusal to take any throughout his life, global pandemic or otherwise.

DeLeon, who is in the last year of his contract with the club, went on to state that he is in the minority at the club as “one of a few” who have taken this anti-vax position.

When asked about this, Curtis said that the club is “respectful of people’s opinions,” but stated that the club believe that vaccines are a “key component of getting out of this pandemic.” He went on to state that he expects MLS to have their own policies in place regarding post-vaccination protocols.

“They’ve asked that we make them aware of what our planning is and who’s getting vaccinated,” said Curtis. “Personally, I took the vaccine. We’re encouraging our staff and our players to get the vaccine. With that being said, it’s not mandatory. You can’t force someone to go and get a vaccine. We think it’s important though.”

With this in mind, the GM spoke about how the club had also set up a Zoom info-session to address any questions about the vaccine with four doctors, including an infections diseases specialist who was “...able to address all questions and comments that players have regarding vaccinations.”

“What we are trying to do as a club is to be responsible about providing all our staff and all of our players with as much information as possible regarding vaccinations and the benefits of it.”

As the team kicks-off their campaign this week, one where the players and staff will be in closer quarters and interacting with each other more than ever before, supporters will be encouraged by the steps taken by the club to remain healthy and safe and to stop the spread of the virus.