Bayern star Joshua Kimmich at center of COVID vaccine debate

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BERLIN (AP) — Bayern Munich soccer star Joshua Kimmich has found himself at the center of a debate in Germany over the merits of vaccination against the coronavirus.

The 26-year-old Kimmich, tipped as a future Germany captain for his leadership qualities, confirmed over the weekend that he is yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because of his own concerns about “a lack of long-term studies” into the effects of the vaccines.

Kimmich said he was still considering it and that it was “very possible that I will get vaccinated.”

His comments were welcomed by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has consistently opposed measures against the coronavirus, while they led to dismay among those who are banking on vaccines as a route back toward normalcy at a time when infection rates are climbing again in Germany.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the less dangerous the virus will be,” Leipzig's American coach Jesse Marsch said Monday.

Germany's public health institute reported that just over 55 million people, or 66.2 percent of the population, were fully vaccinated. Children under 12 years old are not being vaccinated.

Medical expert Alena Buyx, president of the German Ethics Council, said Kimmich is “caught up in misinformation. He is very badly advised. This is something that has now spread, and it would be great if he’d used his platform to get better advice to be a role model in this regard.”

Buyx added: “It is important to clarify that these forms of long-term effects do not exist.”

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday that there were “clear and convincing answers” to Kimmich’s questions from national and international experts, and that he hoped that “Kimmich lets all this information work on him and then maybe he can decide in favor of the vaccination.”

Kimmich’s reluctance to get vaccinated surprised many due to his involvement in setting up the “We Kick Corona” fundraising campaign with Bayern and Germany teammate Leon Goretzka in March 2020. Together they raised millions for social and charitable organizations to continue working during the pandemic, while some of that money also went to medical associations.

“We also donated to UNICEF, who made vaccines available. The point was that there are also countries that do not have access to vaccines,” Kimmich said Saturday after Bayern’s win over Hoffenheim. “I think everyone should make the decision for themselves and it cannot be that someone has no access. Because if you make the decision to do so, then you should do everything you can to ensure that they can get the vaccine."

The player denied being opposed to vaccines.

“I think that’s a shame about the debate, that it’s only about being vaccinated or not vaccinated and if you’re not, then you’re automatically a COVID-denier or vaccine-opponent,” Kimmich said. “But there are other people at home, I think, who are simply having thoughts — whatever the reasons are. I think they should be respected, especially if they are sticking to the guidelines.”

Neither the German soccer league nor the clubs publicize which players are vaccinated and which are not. Several have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Kimmich is almost certainly not the only Bundesliga player who isn’t vaccinated, but his stature as a Bayern and Germany leader — he captained Germany in Manuel Neuer’s absence recently — means his statements carry added weight.

“As an example, but also for practical reasons, it would be better if he were vaccinated,” former Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Rummenigge’s successor Oliver Kahn said that Bayern’s stance as a club is that “we can only recommend to everyone to get vaccinated” but that “you also have to respect if one or another has another opinion.”

Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann is currently self-isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Nagelsmann is coping well with the disease and has been conveying messages to assistant coach Dino Toppmöller for the last two games.

While most of last season was played without any fans at all present, this season has seen their return under stringent conditions. Most clubs are still operating under the so-called 3G rule – spectators must be vaccinated against COVID-19, have recovered from the disease, or have proof of a negative test result.

But some only allow vaccinated or recovered fans to attend games. The same rule doesn’t apply to players or it would mean that Kimmich, and any others who aren't vaccinated, would not be granted entry.

Kimmich said he undergoes tests regularly, and that they are paid for by his club.

Former Bayern president Uli Hoeness would not be drawn on his thoughts over Kimmich’s statements.

“I have an opinion on the matter, but only for him,” Hoeness said.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press

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