Chicago Bulls players received the COVID-19 vaccine this week before leaving town to begin a five-game trip.
The Bulls and NBA had been in dialogue with players the last few months, providing information about the vaccine and when it might be available to the team. With eligibility rapidly expanding in Illinois, including everyone 16 and older beginning next week in counties outside Chicago, the Bulls on Monday were given an opportunity to receive the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Most of the team decided to take the vaccine, according to forward Thad Young, who said the information he received and the potential for relaxed health and safety protocols were enough to go forward with the decision.
“We have a lot of the information in our hands and we’ve utilized the information and took the time to learn more about the vaccine,” Young said. “The guys who did take it came to the conclusion that we want to take it as soon as possible so we could loosen some of these protocols and try to get back to living a semi-normal life.”
The NBA and players association agreed last month to new health and safety protocols for vaccinated individuals, which go into effect once 85% of a team’s staff are fully vaccinated. The relaxed protocols include no PCR tests on days off, allow players to go to outdoor restaurants, interact with guests at home (but still not at bars or clubs) and have four guests on the road without prior testing.
Players and coaches who have been fully vaccinated also are allowed to leave their hotel room at any time, attend in-person marketing events and meetings and are not required to wear masks at the team practice facility.
The Bulls coaching staff still meets over Zoom to try to limit contact. They have remained diligent this late in the season after a false positive from assistant coach Josh Longstaff in December caused four coaches to miss a game against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 26.
“Hopefully by doing some of this, we can get closer to being more normal, what it’s been like in the past,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Who knows if we’ll ever get back to normal, but we can get a little bit closer to what we’re all accustomed to doing.”
Those revamped protocols won’t go into effect until 14 days after receiving the final dose of the vaccine, which would put the Bulls on track for sometime around May 10, the final week of the season. Donovan was not sure whether the Bulls would be able get all the vaccinations done in time, but the team still wants to get it done.
“The Chicago Bulls worked with the city of Chicago and Rush University Medical Center to vaccinate some of our players while they were in town,” a team spokeswoman said in a statement. “The Bulls have been active supporters of the city’s campaigns to communicate vital COVID-19 health and safety messages over the last year, and we look forward to joining forces with them again to support an upcoming vaccine advocacy campaign.
“These efforts are important to our families, our friends, our fans and the Chicago community, and we are proud to contribute our voices and team marketing resources to help amplify important vaccine advocacy messages.”
The Bulls season already has had its share of COVID-19 interruptions. Four players tested positive — Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Noah Vonleh before he was cut during training camp. They had several games postponed in the first half that required rescheduling, including Thursday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.
But the COVID-19 issues that hampered the league in the first half appear to be settling. Of the 483 players tested this week, the league said it had only one new positive test result.
The Bulls played the following night after receiving the vaccine, beating the Indiana Pacers 113-97 on Tuesday.
Young, a lefty, laughed when he pointed out he was the only player to get the injection in his right arm as players looked to avoid having aching shooting arms during games. But outside of mild chills and some fatigue — he said he nearly slept through his next COVID-19 test — he did not feel any symptoms.
“Once I became more comfortable and more receptive to the idea of taking it, it kind of just loosened up more and more as time went on,” Young said. “This is not just something I thought yesterday where I said, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to get it.’ It was more so me having information over a course of a period of time, as well as my teammates over a period of probably a month or two months and getting information constantly and just talking about it and understanding more about it.”