Wimbledon is just over two months away, and it is already possible that a strain of measles could spread among participants.
When the Open was announced last December, the Australian Tennis Association said, for the first time, that it would allow unvaccinated entrants to enter. In a statement that was taken as a triumphant assertion that change is good, medical experts and organisations in the United Kingdom and the United States criticized the move. In a front-page editorial on July 8, The Times in London expressed “shock” at the move and called for the tournament’s organizers to “re-consider this risky and dangerous option.”
The WTA, the women’s tennis tour, said at the time that immunization was a state and federal matter, and that exemptions were permissible. It also told the BBC at the time that anyone infected with the disease would be quarantined. In the United States, where most of the unvaccinated players at Wimbledon are from, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 98 percent of children will be immune, though the body can only fight off the disease for about 10 days.
Yet in the first three rounds of the Australian Open, 11 men and two women have been warned for not complying with the requirement that they be immunized — because some on the men’s tour have been diagnosed with the disease. Tennis Australia, the governing body for the sport, said that neither a formal nor informal form of retraction was necessary to verify that an exemption had been complied with.
So far the tournament has not seen anyone infected with measles, but eight players have been vaccinated. The 19-year-old Louisa Chirico, who reached the third round, said she understood the concerns of her medical team, but also, that she had kept in contact with her mom to make sure her personal safety was assured. Australian tennis legend Margaret Court later expressed her concerns in an interview with CNN, but on Sunday she said that “only God knows” if allowing the exemptions had any impact on her and Courtney’s decision to go ahead with the tournament.
The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website warns that people without the necessary immunity are particularly at risk during outbreaks in healthcare settings or schools.
The Australian Open, which is ranked as the world’s number one tennis tournament, has already held up its end of the bargain on the health front, having also made a significant proportion of its players’ surnames free of names associated with abuse, venereal disease and drug use.