After a season where a record number of players have either pulled out of or opted out of competing in major tournaments following taking the men’s pro tour’s mandatory flu shot, tennis’ governing bodies insist that players should not be too concerned.
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After a year where more than 50 women have pulled out of four major tournaments due to illness, Roger Federer has already announced that he is taking the women’s pro tour’s flu shot for the first time and expects to be fully fit for the US Open that begins on 1 August.
Another 16 players from the women’s tour were reported to have already passed the same test, but officials at the ATP and the Grand Slam Board maintain the risk of catching the flu is minimal. “It’s a small percentage of the player population. It’s hard to get enough players to take the immunisation,” said Steve Simon, the ATP’s executive chairman and president. “I would say we’re a little over 4,000 players and having a small percentage of 1% who would be affected by a small percentage is not very concerning to us.
“We tell our players the shots are safe. In my 25 years in tennis I have not had one player I’ve known say they weren’t taking it.”
The joint steering committee on men’s pro tennis at the Grand Slam Board said that it has published a prevention campaign, during which players are given low doses of cold and flu virus vaccine with reminders of what to do in case of a cold or flu. “Of the approximately 96 million visits to the health care system each year, we are aware of no instance where a player has been infected after being vaccinated against the flu,” the committee added.
Last week the head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Steve Simon, said he also expected players to take the flu shot. The chair of the WTA, Mary Carillo, also said she thinks the risks of suffering from the flu should not be too great.
“There’s a narrow window of time (for taking the shot) and that’s because it’s a vaccine that’s not 100% effective but, at that point, our experience has been it has some level of effectiveness,” Carillo said. “I get the impression that a lot of players don’t get that they’re in more jeopardy taking the shot than they are not getting it, so there’s an element of self-protective thinking.”
Nadal admits that he took a flu shot and said players need to “think twice” about missing the tournaments they need to take part in to win Grand Slam titles. “I took the vaccine and it was OK but I had not felt anything for almost two weeks and I think people have to think twice now, it’s a good chance it might happen,” Nadal said.
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Grand Slam Board say that they will offer players advice on how to best protect themselves against the flu and encourage them to take all the necessary precautions.
“I take all the precautions possible, I wash my hands, I do a lot of things to stay healthy. When you’re on the court, you cannot avoid the virus. We have a better idea now of what to do as a player but it is better to take a shot,” Andy Murray said.