THE AFL has opened the door for former Carlton and Western Bulldogs key defender Liam Jones – and other unvaccinated players – to return after updating its vaccination requirements on Thursday.

All players, coaches and others in the industry were previously required to be fully vaccinated in line with state and territory government guidelines to combat COVID-19, but now the AFL has removed the mandatory element of the guidelines, which is consistent with changes at state and territory level. 

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After an extensive review in consultation with the AFL Players Association, clubs, umpires, headquarters and the AFL's chief medical officer, the change will be implemented immediately. 

Jones chose to retire in November last year after the Blues couldn't convince the star backman to adhere to the AFL's mandatory vaccination policy ahead of the 2022 season. 

Carlton's Liam Jones gestures during the clash against Richmond in R1, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

The 31-year-old moved to the Gold Coast after severing ties with Carlton and has played for Palm Beach Currumbin in the QAFL, featuring in 11 games where he has been named in the best players seven times. 

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It is understood that Carlton could seek some form of compensation for losing Jones if he lands at a rival club, following a season where his absence has been sorely missed due to a spate of injuries to key defenders at Princes Park.

Former Brisbane and Adelaide midfielder Cam Ellis-Yolmen could also return to the AFL next season after his time at the Gabba ended earlier this season due to his reluctance to be vaccinated. 

Cam Ellis-Yolmen in action against Geelong in the 2020 preliminary final. Picture: AFL Photos

The 29-year-old spent most of the year at Labrador in the QAFL under former Sydney premiership defender Nick Malceski, before moving to Woodville-West Torrens this month when the vaccination requirements changed. 

It is understood that Ellis-Yolmen still wants to play in the AFL and made the decision to move to the SANFL mid-season in a bid to keep that option alive. 

After sitting out last season, St Kilda midfielder Georgia Patrikios will be available to resume training at Moorabbin ahead of the AFLW season in a major boost for Nick Dal Santo's side.

Saints star Georgia Patrikios. Picture: AFL Photos

AFL Executive General Manager Football Andrew Dillon said the league still recommends the industry is vaccinated but has altered its approach to match changes around the country. 

"The health and safety of our players, staff and the wider community has been one of the guiding principles governing the AFL's ongoing response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," Dillon said.

"Our AFL industry has continued to adapt to the circumstances in front of us, and while we have removed the mandatory vaccine mandate, we still maintain the view that vaccinations are the best form of defence in minimising the impacts of COVID with the focus now on keeping up-to-date with all recommended boosters.

"We will continue to monitor the COVID situation as it evolves. If we need to adjust over the coming weeks and months, we will do so in consultation with the respective Governments and medical professionals.

"As an industry we are committed to providing a safe environment for all our people and doing what we can to reduce the risk and impact of transmission of COVID-19 within the community."