To Save Live Music, We Need to Get Vaccinated

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A barrier at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago reads "Please have proof of vaccination to show."
Showing proof of vaccination was a required step in the entrance process for attendees at this year's Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Offspring drummer Pete Parada received an outpouring of support earlier this week after he announced he would be unable to tour for the foreseeable future. In an emotional Instagram post, Parada said that a medical condition he has been living with since childhood—Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)—prevented him from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, and that his band now considered him “unsafe” to work with. GBS is a rare and incurable condition that causes the body's immune system to attack its nerves.

“Given my personal history and the side-effect profile of these jabs,” Parada wrote, “my doctor has advised me not to get a shot at this time. Unfortunately for me (and my family—who is hoping to keep me around a bit longer), the risks far outweigh the benefits.”

Recent figures suggest there may an increased risk of suffering a bout of GBS after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. “There have been 100 preliminary reports of GBS following vaccination,” the FDA reports, “after approximately 12.5 million doses administered.” However, there is no evidence that the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines carry increased risks for GBS patients.

“Since I am unable to comply with what is increasingly becoming an industry mandate,” Parada wrote, “it has recently been decided that I am unsafe to be around, in the studio, and on tour. I mention this because you won't be seeing me at these upcoming shows. I also want to share my story so that anyone else experiencing the agony and isolation of getting left behind right now knows they're not entirely alone.”

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By Wednesday, Parada's post had been liked almost 18,000 times, and prompted comments of love, support and vaccine-related outrage. One fan wrote, “The fear, the manipulation and coercion around [vaccines] are truly what is frightening.” Five Finger Death Punch drummer Charlie Engen commented that it was "sickening you even have to explain yourself.” Bad Wolves vocalist Tommy Vext called Parada's predicament “a fucking disgrace,” and opined that “this all feels like the beginnings of a medical apartheid.”

Those are strong words in a live-music landscape that is still accommodating unvaccinated people. Parada's announcement (and the outpouring that it prompted) directly followed a weekend in which 100,000 fans a day—including the unvaccinated—descended on the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. Ticket holders without vaccines were permitted at the event with proof of a negative COVID test.

The weekend before, Miami's Rolling Loud Festival attracted daily crowds of 75,000 and had zero COVID-related restrictions for entry. “Fans will have the choice, whether or not they want to be vaccinated or mask,” festival co-founder Tariq Cheriff told the Miami Herald. “That’s basically what we believe in. You got the choice and that’s it.”

While some of America's most popular festivals—including Coachella, Burning Man and SXSW—have opted to postpone until 2022, many others are still forging ahead this year. COVID restrictions for attendees at each event vary and are at the discretion of the organizers. So, for example, while Napa's BottleRock will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, Outside Lands is—for the moment, at least—merely saying it “will follow the recommended health and safety guidelines put forth by the authorities.” Stern Grove says it will have a reservation-only policy and a perimeter, but no requirement to show vaccine status at this time. It is unclear what restrictions will be in place for performers.

As for music venues, in California at least, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) reports that most of the music venues checking vaccine cards are also accepting negative COVID tests.

While Parada claimed that his decision to not get vaccinated was a medical one, he also shared clear anti-vax opinions later in his post. “I do not find it ethical or wise,” he wrote, “to allow those with the most power (government, corporations, organizations, employers) to dictate medical procedures to those with the least power.” Parada continued: “If it looks like half the population is having a shockingly different reaction to these jabs than was expected—it's probably because their life experiences have actually been shockingly different.”

As the music industry scrambles to bring back live music, the very least fans and musicians should be doing before heading out to venues is getting vaccinated and/or checking their COVID status regularly with tests. Even then, an abundance of caution should still be exercised. The Netherlands' Verknipt festival, which took place in mid-July, offers a cautionary example. The two-day outdoor festival required proof of vaccine or a negative test to enter, but still led to 1,050 COVID infections—5% of attendees caught the virus.

Make no mistake, the social and personal freedoms we have successfully wrangled back in recent months are a direct result of the vaccine rollout. What most threatens those freedoms now is the highly transmissible delta variant which, data proves, vaccines protect against. (“The rate of breakthrough cases reported among those fully vaccinated is well below 1% in all reporting states,” according to the New York Times.) The larger barriers to the freedom of immunocompromised people aren't COVID safety measures—they're the dangers posed by a virus that spreads further and faster the less people are vaccinated.