UMaine hockey player quits team after refusing to get COVID-19 recall

A male University of Maine hockey player quit the team after refusing to receive a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

UMaine hockey winger Emil Westerlund said Thursday he left because the school requires its student-athletes to get the COVID-19 booster, in addition to the two required vaccines, to travel outside of the State. Westerlund said he received the first two strokes and contracted COVID-19 in November.

“So I thought with the two vaccinations and having contracted COVID, that’s the best protection I could get. I had natural immunity,” said Westerlund, who will not receive the booster shot “As an athlete, you should have the right to decide what you are going to put in your body.”

Westerlund’s claim comes days after head coach Ben Barr said he was leaving due to multiple lingering injuries. Westerlund underwent knee surgery in the offseason and suffered a concussion this season in addition to contracting COVID-19. He appeared in 14 games without a goal or an assist.

Barr confirmed on Thursday that Westerlund’s refusal to get vaccinated led to his departure from the team.

“I was not free to discuss his vaccination status, but since he announced it, it is true that he has not been able to travel with the team due to the vaccination policy of the school,” Barr said.

Westerlund, a 24-year-old Swedish graduate student, called the situation “frustrating.”

“[The booster policy] is not an NCAA rule,” he said. “College forces athletes to do certain things that college players from other schools don’t have to do. The school doesn’t have the power to tell me what I can put in my own body.

Westerlund said he agreed to receive both vaccines “because we didn’t know what the disease was. So I felt comfortable taking it at that time.

UMaine requires student-athletes eligible for a booster to receive one to travel out of state with a varsity sports team or be exempt from the school’s weekly asymptomatic testing, said Dan Demeritt, spokesperson for the system. from the University of Maine.

That policy went into effect Feb. 1 using guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Demeritt said. He added that the system understands that people have differing opinions on the COVID-19 vaccination.

“While we regret that anyone misses out on a college experience due to concerns about our science-based safety practices, we respect our students’ right to differ from college policies and be transparent about their decisions,” said Demeritt.

While Westerlund could still have trained with the team and played home games, he said Barr was not going to keep him on the team and he agreed with his coach’s decision.

“No athlete would want to do that, not being able to help their team in away games or in the playoffs. It’s not good for me,” Westerlund said.

A report released by the CDC on Feb. 11 found that vaccine effectiveness in preventing COVID-related visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers was higher in people who received boosters than in people who had only received the original series of vaccines.

The last time Westerlund played was in a two-game series at UMass Lowell on Jan. 14-15.

Westerlund finished tied for fifth on the team in scoring in the abridged 2020-21 season with nine points on four goals and five assists in 16 games. He finished his career with 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points in 116 games.

Catherine J. Martinez