(Reuters) - British sports minister Nigel Huddleston has urged footballers who do not intend to get the COVID-19 vaccine to "overcome their reluctance" because it is their social responsibility.
With games being postponed due to COVID outbreaks at several clubs, the English Football League (EFL), which governs the lower divisions of the sport, said on Thursday that a quarter of players from its 72 clubs do not intend to get vaccinated.
"I recognise that some people can't get vaccinated, but we all need to encourage those who aren't vaccinated to overcome their reluctance," Huddleston was quoted as saying by the BBC.
"The overwhelming majority of those seriously ill from COVID in hospital are unvaccinated. The most important thing anyone -- including footballers -- can do to protect themselves, co-workers and loved ones is to get vaccinated and get a booster."
The Premier League's most recent data on vaccination levels in mid-October found that 81% of players had received at least one vaccination dose with 68% double vaccinated.
"Getting the jab is the socially responsible thing to do. Many footballers and sports stars have used their profile and social media to encourage people to get vaccinated. I am very grateful to them, they can reach people that ministers can't," Huddleston added.
EFL medical adviser Richard Higgins has urged players to get fully vaccinated and obtain the booster jab if eligible as the Omicron variant takes hold.
European soccer's governing body UEFA has also launched an information campaign to encourage players to get their vaccinations.
"I know the football authorities are also working with players to understand why some are vaccine hesitant," Huddleston said.
Member of Parliament Jeff Smith also urged footballers to get the vaccine, describing them as "important role models for millions of people.
"Vaccines are safe, effective and the best protection we have against COVID," he said.
"COVID can affect everyone, including fit young people. Getting vaccinated is not only about protecting yourself -- it's about protecting everyone around you."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)