When Irish soccer manager Stephen Kenny announced his squad for the September World Cup qualifiers, a number of players weren't available because of Covid-19. They were either positive, or had been deemed close contacts and Kenny also said that he cannot force players to take a vaccine.

But Irish soccer players are not alone in not getting jabbed: numerous Premier League players, NFL stars, Olympians and even some GAA intercounty players are among the sports people who appear to be vaccine hesitant. Professor Cliona O'Farrelly, Professor of Comparative Immunology and Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin and an Irish Research Council awardee. and Ciarán Murphy from Second Captains joiined the Today With Claire Byrne show on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss the story. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been lightly edited for length and clarity - full discussion can be heard above).

"Young athletes who are very, very wary of everything that they put into their bodies are suspicious of the vaccine, for whatever reason", says Murphy. "It is a situation maybe where the few that are refusing to take the vaccine are making rather more noise about it than the majority of people who are accepting the vaccine, but it's interesting from the point of view of a dressing room and dressing room dynamics.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Claire Byrne, interview with Republic of Ireland soccer manager Stephen Kenny

"Young sports people lead a very closeted life. And the richer and more successful they are, the more closeted they are, the more suspicion, perhaps, of mainstream media, to use that terrible phrase, there is amongst these people. They might get talking about conspiracy theories, or wild anti-vax theories that they would have seen on the internet. And it spreads in the dressing room in a way that it's kind of maybe harder for us to understand, for those of us who work in a regular work environment."

So how do you get through to them? "Obviously, there are team doctors in all of these situations, and you would hope that they would be able to have conversations one-on-one with these people to convince them what the right thing to do is", says Murphy. "If the Premier League or the NFL bring in rules, as the NFL has already done, which punishes teams that have Covid outbreaks amongst unvaccinated players, and if your decisions to not get vaccinated hurts to your team, then the teammates in the dressing room are going to let you know, in no uncertain terms, you're hurting the team here."

For O'Farrelly, the hesitancy is understandable though misplaced. "As you know, I'm a 65-year-old woman of only medium fitness, but I have known enough athletes in my life and I am absolutely intrigued by how obsessed they become with their bodies and their performance and they're measuring everything. I think the slightest little fear that even one day of side effects might throw them off is enough to make them forget infection is going to have a far more dramatic effect.

Yes, there will be players who will decide not to listen to that and that's tough to understand

"Ciarán's point is absolutely right about them living in bubbles and hearing one thing and about the Chinese whispers that go around. I think that's been very, very dangerous, or damaging, I'd say, to the vaccination initiative. There are examples from across the globe of elite athletes who've become infected and got long Covid. Now, an elite athlete with long Covid is very depressing thought, so I am really surprised that the management aren't using that as an initiative."

Murphy pointed to what's happened already in the Premier League. "Newcastle United's manager Steve Bruce says a lot of their players haven't been vaccinated, even though their sub goalkeeper, Karl Darlow, spent five days in the hospital during the summer. He lost two stone. And Darlow is still not fit enough to train with the first team again. Mikel Arteta, Arsenal's manager, lost three of his best players. For the first game of the season they lost in humiliating circumstances to a newly promoted team, Brentford."

"I think the best way is to explain to them the benefits or not benefits to being vaccinated or not for themselves, for their families, for the rest of the people working here and in the street. After that, everyone is going to decide. Pep Guardiola has spoken out about this and his mother died after contracting the virus last year so he understands firsthand what's at stake here. That's a pretty compelling reason for him to offer, from a personal point of view. And yes, there will be players who will decide not to listen to that and that's tough to understand."

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Claire Byrne, Orla Bannon on the postponement of the Tyrone v Kerry All-Ireland football semi-final

Murphy then talked about how the GAA accommodated the Tyrone footballers by pushing back the All Ireland semi-final after a Covid outbreak in the camp. "Tyrone manager Feargal Logan made comments that were published in the Irish Examiner: 'In fairness, part of the consideration this year was because it was a compressed league and championship. We were anxious that if guys were vaccinated, they might go under for two weeks and that might inhibit their performance. Vaccination has been a conundrum. We didn't make it mandatory across the board. There are some players back to did for a variety of reasons, be they on the frontline, or work in health.'

"Now, the question was asked, what are the level of vaccination in his squad? If he had said, "That's confidential medical information about amateur players", I don't think any of us would have had any major qualm with that. We may have inferred X, Y, or Z, but he would have been within his rights.

"If he comes out and says that management were anxious that if guys were vaccinated, they might go under for two weeks, might miss two weeks training, then I think we're well within our rights to ask what the messaging was from Tyrone management to their players. I mean, I've read out examples of Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola earlier. Pretty clear. We can only go so far, it's a personal decision, but please get vaccinated. It makes everyone's life a lot."

Athletes who train to a very high level are putting stress on their body and that impacts on their immune system

But are the fears about vaccine side effects justified? "There's no evidence that side effects last for two weeks, and certainly not in fit, healthy, young people", says O'Farrelly. "I appreciate how athletes hate the thought of losing even 24 hours. But I anticipate a time when teams will refuse to play against a team that isn't fully vaccinated. I bet you by this time next year, that would be happening. Management should really be taking that approach and finding a way of encouraging them all to volunteer first.

"Athletes who train to a very high level are putting stress on their body and that impacts on their immune system and there is actually evidence out there that they may be more susceptible to infection. I look forward very much to hearing the data also from Japan, from the Olympics, as to what the rate of infection really was in the village there. I think this idea that their bodies are in super, super condition, that their immune systems are in some way invincible is a real mistake."