The four-time NBA champion and the league’s most accomplished all-time player says current basketball players should protect themselves against serious flu-like illness from the pertussis (whooping cough) or “potentially cancel a season and save everyone else’s health.”
“If it’s possible, everybody should have the vaccine,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the record-setting center who along with his wife, Marilyn, is working with the Council on Immunization Practices in the San Francisco Bay Area to combat the disease which, according to the CDC, is one of the most fatal pediatric childhood diseases. The disease is rare in the US but in countries such as India and Pakistan where fewer vaccinations are administered, it’s on the rise. Abdul-Jabbar said the couple’s children should receive the Pertussis Jingle Vaccine (“Project Jingle”) during their routine shots but that NBA players might be exempt because of their international travel.
Play Video 0:15 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says NBA players should get inoculated against vaccine-preventable disease – video
A recent CDC surveillance study found that between 1 January 2018 and May this year, more than 480 infants in California had the disease, representing a 50% increase in cases over the same time period in 2017.
In California, whooping cough is administered through three childhood vaccines: Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), diphtheria (Pertussis) and pertussis (whooping cough). The CDC recommends receiving all three shots at 12 months, 18 months and 36 months. Abdul-Jabbar does not advocate that all NBA players receive the shots, but that they do, so that they can protect themselves while they are preparing for the upcoming season. “Most [NBA players] already have two or three of the shots, but since the aortic gene is passed down, they won’t get it [the disease] if they have all the shots,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar, 68, said he believes athletes should not have to “prove their patriotism” to remain on a team, and that current players should receive at least the third dose of the tetanus vaccine at 18 months. Also, “it doesn’t hurt if they have everybody on their schedule,” he said.
Shaquille O’Neal, who went to high school with Muhammad Ali, said he agrees with Abdul-Jabbar on some issues but that his advice on vaccinations is biased by his age. “I’m old and with all due respect, I believe in vaccinations and things like that. But if I were a young kid playing in this league, I would not get a booster shot like that if I could, because it would be stupid.”
Abdul-Jabbar said that he also believes parents should vaccinate their children if they feel strongly about it.
“I have no problem with the medical advice,” he said. “I have a problem with parents when I can’t see the need. They have an obligation to their children. If you don’t want to do it, I understand. I wouldn’t take the shot because it is stupid. It’s still a dangerous disease and it is a disease that you need to protect yourself against.”
Asked if he thinks parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are akin to parents who “gave a kid a gun” and sometimes took it to bed, he said: “If you want to hurt someone, don’t give a gun.”