On Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets became the first NHL team to require fans to be vaccinated to attend games in the coming season.
The Vancouver Canucks — and the rest of the NHL — should follow suit.
The case for requiring proof of vaccination is fairly simple: large indoor gatherings, particularly ones where people are likely to be yelling and cheering, have the potential to cause COVID-19 outbreaks. There’s a reason why health authorities have limited such gatherings over the course of the pandemic.
While studies are limited when it comes to sports attendance and the spread of COVID-19, one study on the NFL from the University of Southern Mississippi found “compelling evidence that the presence of fans at NFL home games during the 2020/2021 season led to increased levels of COVID-19 cases and rates.” Considering NFL games are largely played in open-air stadiums, the risk in an enclosed hockey arena is likely to be even higher.
If only vaccinated people are allowed to attend, that severely reduces the probability of an outbreak as the vaccines are highly effective at limiting symptomatic infection, which limits the spread of the virus.
The Canucks, of course, are well aware of how quickly the COVID-19 virus can spread. They had to deal with the NHL's largest outbreak last season, with a total of 25 players and staff testing positive for the virus.
Majority of Canucks fans support requiring vaccination to attend games
Beyond the medical argument, requiring proof of vaccination is also a very popular idea.
The statement from the Jets said that the majority of their season ticket holders want the team to require proof of vaccination and that it’s important to them.
“We have recently surveyed a selection of our customers and the majority of respondents told us they would only feel comfortable attending games if we required proof of full vaccination,” reads the FAQ on the website for the Canada Life Centre, the Jets’ home arena.
That aligns with national polling data, which shows that 81% of Canadians support either mandatory COVID-19 vaccination or limited access to some places for the unvaccinated.
An informal poll I conducted on Twitter suggests that requiring vaccines to go to games at Rogers Arena would be supported by the vast majority of Canucks fans. Around 92% of fans said that the Canucks should require proof of vaccination to attend games.
Canucks are "definitely exploring the possibility" of requiring vaccination
According to an email, the Canucks might require proof of vaccination at games next season.
“While we have not made any final decisions, we are definitely exploring the possibility of requiring proof of vaccination for entry into our venues. We expect to finalize our policies in the coming weeks and will communicate with our season ticket members and fans as soon as we can,” said the team.
Requiring vaccines could be key to hosting fans at full capacity in the coming season. The Jets announced that they will be “selling to full capacity” in their statement regarding their vaccination policy.
Current provincial health requirements in B.C. limit indoor sports events to 50% seated capacity . For Rogers Arena, that would be 9,455 of their 18,910 available seats.
If the Canucks were allowed to increase their capacity with proof of vaccination, that would provide a compelling financial reason beyond the medical, ethical, and popularity reasons.
82.4% of all British Columbians aged 12 and up have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine and 72.0% are fully vaccinated. While vaccines have not yet been approved for those under 12, the Jets have said that children will still be allowed to attend games but, like all other attendees, they will be required to wear masks.
Considerations for those unable to get vaccine?
There are legitimate medical reasons for why some people may be unable to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For instance, some people may have severe allergies to certain components of a vaccine or have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose and have been advised against taking a second dose.
Some venues that require proof of vaccination will allow exceptions for such people with a recent negative COVID test. The Jets do not currently list any exceptions to their vaccine requirement. If and when the Canucks have a similar vaccine policy, it is as yet unclear if they will have exceptions for those unable to be vaccinated.