Emilio Estevez has insisted he takes the coronavirus pandemic "very seriously".
The 59-year-old actor was revealed next week to not be returning for season two of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers amid claims he refused to reveal whether he would comply with the production's COVID-19 vaccination policy.
Emilio has now hit back at the reports, insisting he is "not anti-vaxx" and he ultimately departed the production due to a "good old-fashioned contract dispute" and a "myriad of creative differences".
He told Deadline in a statement: "I am not anti-vaxx. Full stop.
"I take this pandemic very seriously, and I am often teased about my continued following of the safety protocols and my abundance of caution.
"I want to address what transpired and clear up some falsehoods which appeared in an article regarding my decision to depart The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers.
"In the final analysis, this was nothing more than a good old fashioned contract dispute and not, as some would believe an anti-vaccine position."
The veteran actor went on to detail his own experience of contracting coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, despite taking precautions such as avoiding "mass crowds" and wearing "face coverings and gloves", even before they were advised.
He continued: "While I can’t speak for anyone else in regards to this polarising, sensitive issue, I have my own lived experience.
"In late February 2020, at the end of shooting the pilot for the 'The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers' in Vancouver, I wasn’t feeling 100%. I chalked it up to being on a cold set and on an ice rink day after day...
"On March 17, 2020, I got word I had indeed contracted COVID-19."
Emilio has been stricken by Long Covid and admitted he was hesitant about returning to work during the pandemic, but was warned he could face legal action if he did not show up to the set.
He continued: "As the show went back into production in August 2020, I reluctantly soldiered on, but was uncertain about how I would be safe on set. I questioned the wisdom of returning to make a tv show in the middle of a pandemic and how actors could be considered 'essential workers'.
"The show producers tried their best to assuage my fears of coming back to work. 'You have natural immunity!' 'You’ll be the safest one on set', I was repeatedly told. Additionally, I was warned by my former reps about possible consequences and legal jeopardy I could face for not reporting to work as ordered.
"So, I returned to Vancouver. I followed the Canadian quarantine mandate as well as the strict 'Zone A' on set Covid protocols. I did not complain, nor did I release my diagnosis to the public. I wanted to try and preserve the show morale and be a leader, however, while still suffering from Long Haul Syndrome. The legacy of the franchise was more important to me than my own health.
"In retrospect, I wrongly chose to protect the show over being transparent about having contracted Covid-19. I may have provided another public example to wit, how we are all vulnerable to this deadly disease."
Emilio admitted he is "disappointed" not to be returning for a second season of the show.
He added: "The quoted 'anonymous sources', producers and show runners all know the truth.
"Simply put, I am anti-bully.
"My exit from the show was due to a myriad of creative differences — any other narrative is false.
"To the fans of the franchise — I am as disappointed as you are.
"To my Ducks cast and crew — have a wonderful Season 2 on the show and please know that I will miss you all.
"It was an honour and a thrill to be able to return as the iconic and beloved character, Gordon Bombay, a character which has been a celebrated benchmark in my 40-year career. And I thank the studio and the producers for creating an opportunity to allow me to visit him again."
Season 1 of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is available on Disney+. — BANG SHOWBIZ
Photo: TPG News/Click Photos