‘No right to watch football unless you’re vaccinated’? Buffalo Bills close doors to unjabbed fans as Covid restrictions row brews

NFL's Buffalo Bills have announced a new policy which states that only vaccinated supporters will be granted access to their Highmark Stadium as the storm surrounding ongoing Covid-19 restrictions intensifies.

The Bills, who are among the favorites for this year's AFC Championship, will require fans over the age of 12 to have received at least one vaccination shot against Covid-19 beginning with the September 26 game with the Washington Football Team, with that to be expanded to fully vaccinated individuals only for the October 31 fixture against the Miami Dolphins as revealed by the team's ownership group, Pegula Sports and Entertainment.

The wearing of masks will no longer be required once the new policy is in place, and comes amid a swath of differing standards and practices in place from various teams to govern the game throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

"If you do not want to get vaccinated... that does not give you a right to go to a football game or a hockey game," said Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz of the move.

"If you want to go to the games, get vaccinated."

Poloncarz was speaking as Eerie County, where the Bills' Highmark Stadium is located, recorded its highest number of positive Covid-19 infections since April and after footage circulated online showing numerous fans failing to comply with mask mandates during the team's home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend.

Poloncarz added that the vaccination restrictions being applied to fans was "necessary" and he indicated that the proposal is being implemented in a bid to safeguard against reducing the numbers of supporters being granted entry to the stadium as happened last year. 

The Bills now join three other NFL teams in requiring fans to be vaccinated, along with the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and Las Vegas Raiders - with the Seahawks and Bills the only teams to do while having an outdoor stadium. 

These restrictions – and particularly the fact that they don't seem to be evenly-applied throughout the league – looks set to ignite further debate about the NFL's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and the so-called 'vaccine passports' which have proven to be grossly unpopular with some sections of society. 

The league has also implemented a series of heavy restrictions on players who choose to remain unvaccinated, announcing a series of harsh financial and team-based penalties in the event of a Covid-19 breakout within a team proved to have been caused by an unvaccinated player.

The vaccination rate within the NFL is understood to be hovering around the 93% mark for players (and 99% for coaches) – a figure which is far in excess of the vaccination rate amongst the general public in the United States, but there still remains some high-profile holdouts – with Bills receiver Cole Beasley being particularly vocal about the issue. 

Beasley's teammate Isaiah McKenzie was another who was hesitant to take the vaccine and was subsequently hit with a near $15,000 fine from the NFL after being found to have failed to wear a mask when required to within the team training facility. He posted a photograph of his vaccine registration card to social media a day later.

And on social media, the reaction was predictably mixed.

"Can you please update the fans as to who is UNVACCINATED as far as players are concerned. I wouldn't want to be the fan in the front row of the end zone and a guy who refuses to get vaccinated (looking at you Beasley) jumps up in the stands after scoring a TD," noted one.

"This is all I’m going to say about the vaccine mandate at games. The Bills and Sabres are required to follow the Erie county health and safety guidelines. This was not their choice. While you have the right to not get vaccinated, these places have the right to refuse you entry," added another fan.

"So who's breaking up with the Bills and donating all their tickets to charity since they don't want to be vaccinated?" countered a third.

"This is why we need mandates. People don’t listen. Vaccine mandate or negative test for anyone going into the stadium. Double security personnel and anyone who doesn’t wear one kick them out. Pretty simple," wrote another.

"This is appalling. I say, in protest, unvaccinated individuals should stick it to the Bills and sell their tickets for pennies on the dollar. That’ll show em. And just let me know when they’re available," added one more fan (apparently in jest), while another wondered aloud how this news will fall upon arguably the league's most vocal vaccine holdout.

"So does that mean that Cole Beasley isn’t allowed to play in home games?

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