The Inconvenient Truth About Vaccine Requirements at Venues

Before we begin here, a couple of critical things:

This is not an “anti-vaxx” article, I am not an “anti-vaxxer.” I received the COVID-19 vaccine (Moderna) on April 3rd, 2021. I also have all of my other vaccinations. I would also recommend to everyone to also get all the vaccinations your medical professional recommends.

This extremely polarizing subject is only being broached due to the severity of the potential repercussions of the policies certain venues, festivals, and promoters are currently enacting.

I am for the right of every venue, festival, and promoter to operate their businesses as they wish, including mandating patrons show proof of vaccination if they so choose.

However, there are a significant amount of downstream ramifications to these decisions to require vaccination for entry at venues and festivals that are not being taken into account whatsoever by those making them in haste and due to public pressure, nor are they being taken into account by the media as they report on them. This is simply an effort to broach these critical issues involved in vaccine requirements so they can be considered and discussed in a broader context.

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First, everyone must understand that mandating the patrons of a music event prove vaccination status or a negative COVID test is absolutely no guarantee that attendees will indeed be vaccinated, or COVID free. As we already saw at Lollapalooza in Chicago and other events mandating proof of vaccination, fake vaccination cards and negative test results are easy to come by. Does requiring such things create a roadblock and a barrier to potential COVID carriers? Yes, it does. But like making marijuana illegal, it in no way can or will stop the unvaccinated or COVID positive from slipping through. It will only stop those who are willing to follow and respect those rules.

Secondly, if you are vaccinated, then you are no longer living in a scenario where my health is dependent on your health, or your health is dependent on anyone else’s. Everyone has access to free vaccines. Yes, breakthrough cases involving the Delta variant are concerning, but in 99.9% of those cases, they do not result in death, and rarely result in serious illness or hospitalization. If someone has chosen not to get vaccinated, they have assumed the risk of potentially falling ill due to COVID-19.

But the biggest concern with these vaccine requirements as they proliferate throughout the music industry is how they call back to an era when individuals in the United States were refused service or restricted from entering certain businesses due to discrimination. In short, these vaccine mandates being implemented throughout the music industry specifically have and will continue to disproportionately discriminate against blacks, Latinos, immigrants, other minorities, as well as disproportionately discriminate against poor whites, and other low income individuals.

Why is this? Because while the media continues to focus on white males from the South as the face of the unvaccinated and is disproportionately reporting on country music events as “outbreaks” and “superspreaders” compared to other mass gatherings, according to CDC Data, whites actually are disproportionately more likely to be vaccinated, while minorities, especially black and Latinos, are not, and in the instance of some specific communities, the disparity is in significant numbers.

There are many reasons for this disparity that many of the affluent whites calling for vaccine mandates are either overlooking, or don’t understand as they lambast the unvaccinated as lazy, stupid, anti-vaxx, or anti-science. Access and availability of vaccines continues to be a disproportionate challenge in more poor, rural, and minority communities. If you’re poor, you may not be able to take the time off of work to get the vaccine. You may be worried about missing work if you have side effects. And if you live hand-to-mouth, these concerns can be non-starters for certain individuals.

Furthermore, there is significant hesitancy among poor and minority communities on vaccines due to the systemic oppression and malfeasance that has occurred in the past. An example is the 40-year-long Tuskegee Syphilis Study that took place in Tuskegee, Alabama, where black men were told that they were receiving treatment by the CDC when they were nothing more than placebo-receiving Guinea pigs. This study—like many other examples that could be cited—happened in the epicenter of where vaccine hesitancy persists in the United States.

If you’re poor, a minority, and/or live in the South, you’re more likely to be audited by the IRS according to Pro Publica. You’re more likely to be arrested for a crime and incarcerated for a longer sentence, and not receive fair representation in the courts. Overlapping maps on IRS audits, food deserts, and other disparities directly correlates with those who are unvaccinated, and the current outbreak of the COVID virus due to the Delta variant.

As well-known progressive commentator Krystal Ball of Breaking Points said on Tuesday (8/10):

While the media has focused only on white Republicans, usually men, young men, who don’t want to get vaccinated, if you look by race, the people who are most hesitant are actually black Americans. And so some of the neighborhoods that have the lowest vaccination rates are actually overwhelmingly minority, urban neighborhoods, exactly because of Tuskegee and a million other instances of racism, and bad interactions with the American healthcare system.

There’s a significant chunk of people who aren’t getting vaccinated because they’re afraid they’re going to get charged, because every other interaction that they’ve had with the American healthcare system and you come home with a gigantic bill. You’ve got a sizable chunk that’s like, “I don’t believe you,” and I can’t really blame them for that.

One thing that should be interjected into this conversation is liberals are very confident in their position that there should be vaccine mandates … just keep in mind that you are talking about a policy that will disproportionately impact black and brown people. That is the reality of the numbers. And yes, ideologically … it is conservatives who tend to have the more hard line position on these things, and there are plenty of white Republican men who you are happy to demonize. But if you’re talking about barring people from workplaces, and restaurants, and public venues based on vaccination status, you are talking about a policy that disproportionately impacts black and brown people, and I’m not really hearing anyone in the media wanting to address that because it’s much easier to hold the position if you’re just talking about forcing a group of people that you don’t like already.

And this leads into the other concerning nature of these vaccine mandates by festivals and venues, which is the slippery slope they present. Everyone wants this pandemic to go away, and for all venues to be open and the free flow of commerce and entertainment to return. But when will these mandates be lifted? Now that we’ve adopted the precedent that venues and festivals can disallow individuals en masse from admittance, will other mandates be put in place, barring people due to other life choices, or unavoidable circumstances? May a venue ban Republicans, or Democrats? May they bar black people because they’re less likely to be vaccinated, or obese people because they’re more likely to die of COVID, under the guise of health and safety?

Though these vaccine mandates by venues and festivals are well-intentioned—and most certainly the right of owners and organizers to implement—even as presently constructed, they will divide the American population along racial, geographical, and socioeconomic lines, even before Trojan horses or other prejudices instituted under the guise of safety are enacted.

If the Delta variant, vaccine hesitancy, and the COVID-19 pandemic at large continues, these requirements by venues could very well segregate the American population culturally like we have never seen before in the modern era, with predominately affluent white vaccinated concertgoers enjoying one set of venues and festivals, and the predominately poor and minority unvaccinated relegated to another. Of course, for some, this is exactly what they want, because they look down their nose at the unvaccinated, often insulting them as opposed to attempting to understand their perspective, and addressing it.

The easy solution would be for everyone to just get vaccinated. But as we’ve seen with many high-profile breakthrough cases recently, including Reba McEntire and her partner who tested positive after being fully vaccinated, getting the shot in no way guarantees you won’t get COVID-19, it only severely restricts serious illness.

Also, despite the wide proliferation and use of the COVID-19 vaccine with generally positive results, it’s worth pointing out that the vaccine has yet to be fully approved by the FDA. It is being distributed solely off of emergency authorization. As the fact sheet from the FDA states that every vaccine recipient receives regardless of the brand, “There is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.” Venues are demanding individuals get a vaccine that the government has yet to give full approval.

And finally, there is another concern. After I received my first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on April 3rd, 2021, I had a severely adverse reaction that was prolonged and significant. After the adverse reaction, I spoke to Austin Public Health, who administrated the vaccine dose. I spoke to Moderna, who interviewed me about my experience. I filled out an incident report on the VAERS system. This was all requested by my doctor, who also medically advised me to not get the 2nd dose of the vaccine.

Technically, I am not “fully vaccinated” since I only received one shot, which means I would be barred from entering these venues, or attending the festivals that have put these requirements in place. As a music writer, this means I am unable to do my job, at least at venues and festivals with the vaccine requirements, and again, despite receiving a dispensation from the 2nd dose by my doctor.

And obviously, I am not the only one. For a host of reasons, numerous individuals have been medically advised not to get the vaccine, and they are being discriminated against as well. Others that have experienced similar adverse reactions are often shamed for sharing their experiences, called “anti-vaxx,” or liars. Some have refused the vaccine for religious reasons. Of course, attending music shows is not a requirement upon anyone. But that’s missing the deeper point.

And a lot of people will say, “Hey, if you don’t want to get the vaccine, then get a test. What’s the harm?” This might be a viable option for some individuals if this option is offered by a venue or festival. But the same hesitancy that persists in poor and minority groups about COVID also persists about testing. Yes, this hesitancy should be addressed, and challenged. But you won’t solve the problem by limiting people’s freedoms, or calling them stupid, or anti-science. You will change their minds by first understanding why they are hesitant, and speaking to their specific circumstances that have made the poor and minorities in the United States disproportionately distrusting of governmental and medical institutions, while attempting to punish or shame them often results them digging their heels into their position.

Instead of shaming people for not getting vaccinated, restricting them, ostracizing and isolating people who already often feel restricted and ostracized from society, musicians and venues can and should be using their platforms to speak to these marginalized communities about their concerns, and participate in outreach as opposed to isolation and restriction.

The solution to these concerns about vaccine requirements at venues is not necessarily to do away with them completely, or not address the issue at all. That is not what’s being argued here. Doing nothing may result in the closing down of the music industry entirely, especially with the way the media continues to sensationalize and stir fear among the public about what otherwise is a very real concern, and a life and death situation for some who contract COVID-19. The media and the public shame that flows to anyone willing to gather regardless of vaccination status is just as much of a dynamic to the future of live music moving forward as the virus itself.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented. But we’ve become accustomed to habits of limiting people’s civil liberties in the name of safety when this should only be done in the most exceptional of cases. The concerns should not just be about what you’re turning away from music venues and festivals with these vaccine entry requirements and refusals of service, but who you are turning away, and what the end result of this will be for public health.

This is a critical discussion that is just not being had.

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