The easily forgotten thing about this story is that it should have never been a story. Joshua Kimmich not being vaccinated has thrown up all sorts of contentious issues but let’s be clear: Bild had no business publishing his vaccination status without the Bayern Munich midfielder’s permission on Friday night.
The tabloid argued that his decision not to take the jab was in the public interest because it jarred with his involvement in the multiple-awarding-wining “WeKickCorona” charity he set up with team-mate Leon Goretzka in March 2020. “WeKickCorona” has channelled more than €6 million to charitable organisations affected by the pandemic, including €500,00 for UNICEF, which supports the World Health Organisation’s COVAX initiative of making vaccines available to poorer countries.
Does that make Kimmich a hypocrite? Hardly. He and his charity started donating money long before there were any vaccines. As Kimmich explained in a live TV interview with Sky after Bayern’s 4-0 win over Hoffenheim on Saturday, he is vaccine-hesitant, not an anti-vaxxer, nor a COVID-19 denier. Kimmich said that he had “some remaining personal concerns, especially in terms of missing long-term studies”. He also mentioned that vaccinated people too could get infected but at the same time emphasised that he wanted everyone to have access to the vaccine. “Personal” is the operative word in this context.
Sources close to the player told The Athletic that he has weighed up the statistically low risk posed to him, a healthy man in his mid-20s, by the virus and simply chosen to wait a little longer before getting the jab as a result of his deliberations. “It’s quite possible I’ll take the vaccine in the future,” he said, adding that he was following strict procedures that included PCR tests every other day. There have also been reports suggesting Kimmich would be less reluctant to take an old-fashioned, inactivated whole virus vaccine. But it’ll be next spring at the earliest before that type of jab will be available.
Kimmich should have never been forced to explain his choice. That doesn’t absolve him of criticism, though. Voicing his concerns rather than maintaining a dignified silence might have been the honest, courageous response to the leak but he perhaps underestimated the symbolic importance of one of Germany’s leading sports personalities questioning the need for the vaccine live on television. The fact that he did so merely for himself was bound to get lost in the ensuing media maelstrom. On Monday, even the German government got involved. A spokesman said they hoped Kimmich would change his mind.