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Commentary: Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew declining COVID-19 vaccine is selfish, unfair to teammates

He said he didn’t want it to interfere with his training, figuring it might cause him to miss a few days of practice.

American Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew decided he would not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
American Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew decided he would not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew couldn’t be bothered to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Katie Ledecky could, and did. So did Simone Manuel. About 90 percent of the U.S. national swimming team did, as of a June estimate.

But not Michael Andrew. He said he didn’t want it to interfere with his training, figuring it might cause him to miss a few days of practice. You know, side effects and all.

The vaccine probably affected the training of Olympic gold medalists Ledecky and Manuel too, but they went ahead and got the shots, gladly doing their part to not only keep themselves safe, but also those around them, including their future Olympic swimming teammates.

But Andrew? The 22-year-old who said he contracted COVID months ago decided he didn’t need to do any of that. Speaking on the YouTube swimming series “Inside with Brett Hawke” in January, Andrew explained his decision this way:

“So my thought pattern is kind of like, if I’ve already got it, there’s not as much health risk for me.”

He also spoke of his family’s views about the virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.

“We’re kind of, I wouldn’t say conspiracy theory type family, but we’re definitely on the side where we look for what other methods are there. The same with the way we train. Just because everyone’s heading in one direction, why do we have to follow that direction?”

Now isn’t that a good question. It’s actually such a Michael Andrew question. Coached by his father in a backyard pool, Andrew turned pro at the tender age of 14 and has always approached training for his sport in an unorthodox manner. So, sure, when everyone goes one way in swimming, go ahead and go another way. And when a life-saving vaccine becomes available, run away from that too, because it seems like the cool thing to do.

But then you qualify for an Olympics in the middle of a pandemic, and you know what that vaccine you scoffed at ends up meaning? Freedom. It’s your security blanket, your get-out-of-jail-free card.

With it, you just might successfully skirt contact tracing at the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. Without it, if there’s a COVID outbreak or scare at the pool, or in the athletes’ village, and you’re in the neighborhood, there is no safety net for you.

You could get contact traced right out of one or more of your Olympic events, and in so doing, bring extra scrutiny to your teammates, who have to eat, sleep and train near some unvaccinated dude.

At the Olympic swimming trials last month, I asked Lindsay Mintenko, managing director of the U.S. national team, about contact tracing rules and the vaccine in Tokyo.

“They are now taking into consideration vaccination status,” she said. “They aren’t going to automatically disqualify you if you are contact traced at this point (and have been vaccinated.) That was good news for us. I have a lot of concerns going into the next few weeks. The health and safety of our athletes is always our No. 1 priority. It takes on a whole new meaning this year.

“The virus is still here. It’s out there, and we’re going into an environment where we have no idea what the other population has been doing to protect themselves. That makes me nervous. We are going to do a lot to protect ourselves. But I’m nervous about what we’re going to walk into.”

Turns out Team USA’s worries start when everyone walks into the team meeting.

If Andrew is concerned about any of this, he didn’t show it Thursday.

“I’m not vaccinated,” he said in reply to a question I asked him. “My reason behind it is, for one, it was kind of a last moment, I didn’t want to put anything in my body that I didn’t know how I would potentially react to.

“As an athlete on the elite level, everything you do is very calculated and understood. For me, in the training cycle, especially leading up to trials, I didn’t want to risk any days out. There were periods where you take a vaccine, you have to deal with some days off.”

He sounded proud as he spoke, proud of his selfish, foolish ways. Proud to be a hindrance to his teammates, a worry to all. Proud to be doing whatever the heck he wants, no matter how it affects anyone else.

But because he comes to the Olympics totally unprotected, a sitting duck for COVID, swimming’s lone wolf desperately needs something he never needed before from his sport’s community.

Others. He needs other people.

Isn’t he lucky that his teammates chose to do what he wouldn’t do and get vaccinated? Can you imagine a couple dozen Michael Andrews running around Tokyo, just waiting for COVID to latch onto them so they could take out a good chunk of the U.S. Olympic team?

Andrew is fortunate to be surrounded by a cocoon of smart, caring teammates who more than likely will keep him safe. To realize his Olympic dream, he needs to swim fast, then rely on them to keep him out of danger.

Because he failed to do the one thing any good teammate would and should do, the guy who has gone it alone his entire life now desperately needs everyone’s help.

Read more at usatoday.com