Although many are hospitalized and can even perish from COVID-19, Greek tennis ace and anti-vaxxer Stefanos Tsitsipas said he thinks he's a good idea if the young are infected with the virus so they can build immunity against it.
At a tennis event in Cincinnati where he got himself into trouble, including with the Greek government that is urging people to be vaccinated as the pandemic spreads, he told Greek reporters that, that the vaccine “has not been tested enough” to make him believe it's safe and effective.
He also said he feels “for us young people I think it’s good to pass the virus because we’ll build immunity,' without apparently knowing that more than 13,000 people in Greece have died from COVID-19 and it's now targeting the young and especially the unvaccinated.
He's in the ranks of the anti-vaxxers, many of whom believe it's part of a international conspiracy to alter their DNA and control their minds although he didn't say if he would go that far in denying the science behind it, and as the vaccines have slowed the pandemic and saved countless lives.
“For me, the vaccine has not been tested enough, it is new. It has some side effects, I personally know some people who have had them. I'm not against clarifying this, I just see no reason for someone in my age group to need to be vaccinated,” he said.
"I think the concept was to be given to older people, if I'm not mistaken. It is not something we know too much about and so far it has not been given to us as a must on the tour. So there is no reason,” he said in disjointed sentences.
He earlier said he would not be vaccinated unless the ATP professional tennis circuit requires it, at which point he would be willing to bend his principles to keep playing and make money.
Feeling the backlash as his stance could make Greece's anti-vaxxers double down on their refusal, which has kept the pandemic spreading, he asked what the point of his press conferences were if he couldn't express his views, rather than staying "diplomatic" and trying not to offend anyone.
"I did not say anything strange. Everyone has their own point of view," he added.
"I want to see a better version of the vaccine, which will give us more pluses than minuses," added the French Open runner-up, said various media reports.
In an interview with Greek public television ERT, Tsitsipas's father and coach Apostolos defended his son and said there's no need for athletes to be vaccinated because they either can't be infected or it won't be serious, although many professional and Olympic athletes contracted the virus.
"Athletes have a strong enough immune system to deal with any challenge that may arise. They take the necessary measures, are in a controlled environment and do PCR and Antigen tests almost every day," he said.
The controversy broke out just as a fawning article appeared in Vogue magazine describing him as charming.
The report said “As Tsitsipas’s game evolves, he is also evolving into his own person, trying on hobbies and habits to find out what suits.
“I’m a grown-up now,” he says of his emerging independence. “I’m not a boy anymore. When I turned 21, I felt like, you know, things have changed.' He's 23.
Tsiptsipas – a role model to many – has been slapped down by the New Democracy government for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and saying it doesn't affect the young.
Tsitsipas said he would be vaccinated only if it becomes mandatory to keep playing on the professional circuit where he is ranked third in the world, willing to bend his principles to keep making money.
“He does not have the knowledge and studies to assess the need for vaccinations,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou was quoted as saying in Greek press reports. “Stefanos Tsitsipas is a great athlete, his skills in sports and his contribution to sports in the country is unquestionable,” he added.
“What is at stake, however, is his ability to assess the need for vaccinations or whether the vaccine has been tested for a sufficient period of time. And … he has neither the knowledge nor the studies nor the research work that would allow him to form an opinion about it.”