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Clemson, South Carolina won't make football players get COVID-19 vaccine

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Coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson open the season Sept. 4 against Georgia in Charlotte. Clemson Athletics/Provided 

CLEMSON — Clemson and South Carolina football players are not required to undergo vaccination for COVID-19. 

The Clemson policy is consistent with all athletes and other students on campus, who have been encouraged — but not mandated — by administrators to get vaccinated, an athletic department spokesperson told The Post and Courier. More than one third of athletes and athletics staff have been vaccinated, the spokesperson said. Athletes who opt against vaccination are not required to sign liability waivers.

The South Carolina football team is following a similar line of thought. Players are encouraged to get vaccinated, but it is not mandatory.

"Nothing that we can require, but we've also made it clear to them the protocols we have in place and whatnot," Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer said. "Nothing's really going to change until we get a bulk of those guys vaccinated."

The Clemson football team was among those hit particularly hard by the virus last year. At least 40 players tested positive. 

Lior Rennert, an assistant professor in public health sciences at Clemson who is leading the development of the universities' COVID-19 mitigation policies, said it is "strongly encouraged" that all students get vaccinated, whether or not they engage in close contact activities.

"Although there may be some individuals who chose not to, it is important to note that those who are vaccinated are strongly protected from infection. Furthermore, Clemson has rigorous mitigation protocols in place, including frequent testing, that have proved successful in prevented outbreaks," Rennert said. "It is important to note that not all institutions have these mitigation measures in place. In the absence of such mitigation measures, a large unvaccinated population that participates in close contact activities would almost certainly lead to outbreaks."

The Redfern Health Center at Clemson opened a clinic for April 22-23 and April 26-28 with 500 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines available on a first-come, first-served basis to students, employees and members of the community. 

It is not uncommon for colleges and universities to require incoming students to get vaccinated for infectious diseases. At Clemson, incoming students are required to provide proof of having taken the MMR (measles, mumps rubella), Tdap and Meningococcal vaccines.

But many colleges have stopped short of mandating the COVID-19 vaccine because it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization, or EUA.

Still, Duke, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Brown, Cornell, Northeastern and others are requiring the vaccines for students returning to campus in the fall. Others are strongly encouraging vaccination, with informational sessions and incentives. At Clemson, only individuals who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine while asymptomatic if exposed to a known positive case. 

There is some fear among health professionals that the virus could mutate into variants and continue to wreak havoc within communities in which it takes too long to reach "herd immunity." Nearly 30 percent of South Carolina residents are fully vaccinated, about in line with the national average. 

Clemson kicks off the season Sept 4. against Georgia at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium. South Carolina opens the season at home against Eastern Illinois on Sept. 4.

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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