Jon Rham was a sure bet to win this weekend’s Memorial golf tournament, a prestigious event that would have earned him $1.7M. He led by six strokes after three of the four rounds and was playing remarkably well. Unfortunately, as the round ended, he was approached by officials and told that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be withdrawn from the tournament.
It was clear from this that Mr. Rham was not fully vaccinated as fully vaccinated and players on the PGA Tour are no longer even tested for COVID. Reports came out that Mr. Rham had an exposure to a COVID infected person over the Memorial Day weekend (while not playing golf) and because of that was followed with daily COVID tests that turned up positive on Saturday.
While most of us currently have little financial incentive to be vaccinated, avoiding COVID-19 illness has been motivation enough. There are financial incentives being offered, such as scholarships, lotteries and even beer, none of these are significant enough payments that they define most people’s decisions. Avoiding COVID-19 illness and its sequelae have been motivation enough. In particular, many have been motivated not only by their desire to avoid infecting themselves, but also by not wanting to infect susceptible people around them.
In this regard, Mr. Rham should have had other significant concerns. His wife, Kelley Cahill, just delivered their first child so he had both a pregnant wife and now a newborn that he could have infected. Remarkably, only 50% of PGA players have been immunized, so his playing partners were also at risk. While he is 26 years old and may have only recently been able to access the vaccine, most people his age did have access by April 1st. Therefore, he could have been fully immunized by Memorial Day. He reportedly did get the first shot of vaccine at the Memorial Tournament, but this was only after he was aware that he had been exposed to COVID-19.
An interesting question raised by this entire scenario is whether or not most individuals will also have significant financial implications from not being immunized against COVID-19? Many people have had concerns about the government mandating vaccines. I do not believe that this will happen, and while the government may put restrictions on vaccinated people such as wearing masks or limiting access to certain facilities, I don’t believe that in the current climate anyone could reach a political consensus around mandatory vaccination.
In contrast to the government, I believe it will be the private sector that will invoke significant financial burdens on those who refuse to be vaccinated. We are already seeing companies that are requiring vaccination of their employees. This is a significant goal for these companies as they do not want to deal with the medical and legal issues of COVID infection in employees who must interact with the public. The move to do this will probably accelerate once full formal FDA approval for the RNA vaccines is granted, which certainly should be within a couple of months. Non-vaccinated people could lose their jobs.
There are also financial issues related to health insurance. Having many unvaccinated individuals at risk for COVID-19 and its associated medical costs raises the price of insurance for employers. It also is possible that insurance companies will refuse to cover the costs of COVID-19 infection in individuals who are not vaccinated. This could put unvaccinated individuals at high risk for costly hospitalization bills or at least drive them to higher priced health insurance that includes coverage for COVID-19.
Life insurance may also become an issue for non-vaccinated individuals at risk for COVID-19, especially over the age of 40 when more serious illness becomes a significant risk. It may be that individuals will have screening for antibody to COVID-19 as part of their pre-insurance physical just as they have screening for cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other conditions that could lead to serious illness. This could markedly increase the cost of life insurance for COVID-19 non-immunized individuals.
Therefore, while most of us won’t be at risk to lose $1.7 million in a day because of not being vaccinated for COVID-19, there may be significant financial burdens that people will suffer if they don’t get the COVID vaccine.