A men’s hockey player from the University of Maine has left the team after refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster.
UMaine hockey winger Emil Westerlund said Thursday that he traveled because the school demands that its student-athletes get the COVID-19 booster, in addition to the mandatory two vaccination shots, to travel out of state. Westerlund said he received the first two shots and received COVID-19 in November.
“So I figured that with the two vaccinations and getting COVID, it was the best protection I could get. I had a natural immunity,” said Westerlund, who does not get the booster shot. “As an athlete, you should have the right to decide what you want to put in your body. “
Westerlund’s claim comes days after head coach Ben Barr said it he left due to prolonged multiple injuries. Westerlund underwent knee surgery in the low season and suffered a concussion this season in addition to receiving COVID-19. He appeared in 14 games without a goal or an assist.
Barr confirmed on Thursday that Westerlund’s refusal to get a booster shot led to him leaving the team.
“I was not free to discuss his vaccination status, but since he has posted it, it is true that he was not able to travel with the team due to the school’s vaccination policy,” Barr said.
Westerlund, a 24-year-old graduate student from Sweden, called the situation “frustrating.”
“[The booster policy] is not an NCAA rule, “he said.” The university forces athletes to do certain things that college players at other schools do not have to do. The school does not have the authority to tell me what I can put in my own body. ”
Westerlund said he agreed to get the two vaccination shots, “because we did not know what the disease was. So I felt comfortable taking it at the time.”
UMaine requires that student-athletes eligible for a booster receive one to travel out of state with a college sports team or be exempted from the school’s weekly asymptomatic test, said Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the University of Maine System.
This policy came into force on February 1, using guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Demeritt said. He added that the system understands that people have different opinions about COVID-19 vaccination.
“While we regret that anyone would miss out on a university experience due to concerns about our science-backed safety practices, we respect our students’ right to deviate from university policies and be transparent about their decisions,” Demeritt said.
While Westerlund could still have coached with the team and played home games, he said Barr would not keep him on the team and he agreed with his coach’s decision.
“No athlete would want to do that because he could not help your team in away games or in the playoffs. That is not right for me,” said Westerlund.
A report published by the CDC on 11 February found that the vaccine efficacy to prevent COVID-related visits to emergency rooms and emergency centers was higher in individuals who had received boosters than in individuals who had received only the original series of shots.
The last time Westerlund played was in a two-game series at UMass Lowell on 14-15. January.
Westerlund is in fifth place on the team in scoring in the shortened season 2020-21 with nine points on four goals and five assists in 16 games. He ended his career with 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points in 116 games.