By now you know that Jon Rahm was set to compete in the Olympics last week until he tested positive yet again. We’ve seen this before, not too long ago, at the Memorial Tournament in early June where Rahm’s positive result was delivered to him on live television. After missing out on a $1.7 million prize and a chance at a gold medal, Rahm must be wondering how he managed to be so unlucky as to carry the virus…twice.
“I would have loved to have been the first Spanish Olympic gold medalist in golf, but unfortunately destiny had other plans,” he tweeted after receiving the news. “This is a great reminder for all of us that we’re still in a pandemic.”
🇪🇸 Olympics pic.twitter.com/ZsXg3GDEsh
— Jon Rahm Rodriguez (@JonRahmpga) July 25, 2021
Now many of you are likely saying ‘He should have been vaccinated, it’s his own fault.’ Well, as it turns out, the golfer received his Johnson & Johnson shot prior to competing in the Memorial Tournament.
Right now, the news cycle is flooded with reports on the Delta variant and how easily it spreads from one host to another. We’ve seen stories of breakthrough infections occurring in those who have been administered the vaccine.
Is this what the future of sports holds for us? By now it is clear that the pandemic is not something we will get behind us for the foreseeable future. Between low vaccination rates and breakthrough cases, we are likely to see many athletes forced to sit out major competitions due to a positive Covid test.
“You’re going to have this over and over again,” said Stanley Perlman, a University of Iowa coronavirus researcher who also sits on the panel that advises the FDA about authorizing Covid-19 vaccines. “This is a story more about being cautious and being sad for the golfer than it being any risk for the world.”
While rare, it is unlikely that vaccinated individuals will become severely ill after full vaccination. Many states are reinstating mask mandates to curtail the spread now that many hospitals are again running out of beds. Doctors are still unsure just how contagious someone is if they are vaccinated.
Theodora Hotziionnou is a virologist at Rockefeller University who has been tasked with studying Covid19 immunity. She explains how testing detects the virus after receiving the vaccine.
“Two weeks is just when your antibody levels start going up. That’s when you can detect them very, very nicely. But it’s also not the peak. They continue to grow for a few weeks.”
While Rahm is obviously not happy that he had to sit out two major events, there may be something to be said for how efficiently his immune system responded to the virus.
“It is possible that the first infection was well controlled by emerging vaccine-elicited immunity, and therefore the first infection might have had little immunological consequence itself,” said Paul Bieniasz, another Rockefeller University virologist working on Covid-19 immunity. “If that were true, then the second infection would be perhaps surprising, but not shocking.”
As it is unclear how long antibodies remain in your system after the vaccine or a Covid infection, it is possible to receive a false positive depending how long you have carried the virus. This means that even with a positive result, Rahm may not have even been contagious.
“This has implications for him professionally. This is a big deal,” said Krutika Kuppalli, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina. “If I were on the committee coming up with the [Olympic] policies, this would be one of the scenarios I’d think about.”
It’s clear the rules are in place to protect not only the athletes, but the volunteers and spectators they are likely to come in contact with. For now, it seems it is better to be safe than sorry