19 May 2021 |  CHARLES MCNULTY | Los Angeles Times

Column: Anti-vaxxers don’t deserve coddling. Why theaters should require proof of vaccination

For a good percentage of those millions of Americans still resistant to getting a COVID-19 vaccine, no amount of information will make a difference. Grumble as we might at this recalcitrant stance, bodily autonomy ought to be a basic human right.

So to all the holdouts out there, enjoy your God-given freedom! But in this next phase of reopening, I hope you won’t mind steering clear of crowded concert halls and busy theaters while the rest of us take steps to feel safe gathering again as an audience.

To that end, I hope that the powers that be at the Music Center will require proof of vaccination for every person wishing to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall or attend an L.A. Opera production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or see a play or a musical at the Mark Taper Forum or the Ahmanson Theatre.

If universities, such as YaleStanford and UCLA, are planning to require returning students to be fully vaccinated, why can’t performing arts venues do the same? This policy would offer audience members some insurance that the stranger crammed into the seat next to them wasn’t a potential petri dish of COVID variants eagerly seeking a crack in their newly erected wall of immunity.Advertisement

The measure could be lifted once the number of new infections reaches a low enough level in the community. But why don’t we just say through the fall to give us all sufficient time to get acclimated to the new not-yet-normal.

Broadway producers are discussing making vaccinations a requirement for cast and crew. But there seems to be some hesitancy to impose this on theatergoers, even though they’ll be sitting cheek by jowl in rows that could make flying coach seem like a fantastic luxury.

Forgive me for being skeptical about the scruples of producers, but when ethical considerations are a concern on only one side of the balance sheet, I remain dubious. In any case, fear of offending vaccine refuseniks — or more precisely, turning away their credit cards — shouldn’t be top of mind at this critical juncture.

Proud public health rebels who trust their own hunches and political allegiances more than empirical data don’t deserve special coddling. Let them ride a horse into a Costco parking lot and celebrate their liberty in the ranting company of a TV has-been.

As for the latest crop of crunchy health purists, who would rather be invaded by a virus that has already claimed the lives of nearly 600,000 Americans than avail themselves of the lifesaving scientific advancements that have been shown to be overwhelmingly safe and effective, I suggest they sip some more organic kale juice in their pristine bubbles and avoid the miasma of everyday life until a celebrity guru gives the all clear.

Sorry for not contorting myself to understand the sincere place from which the wide-ranging resistance of anti-vaxxers emanates. But I see no reason why those of us who have driven to a pharmacy in Calabasas in tight pants and out-of-control hair must continue to indulge their selfishness. Do they really think any of us were gung-ho about getting a shot that could leave us bedridden for 36 hours? We were signing up not as pharmaceutical industry dupes but as Americans determined to do our part in turning the tide against this once-in-a-century pandemic.

If they’re going to ride our vaccinated coattails, they can at least play by our rules. As walking targets for COVID-19, they have more to lose than we do. But it’s tiring to care about those who are content to roll the dice not just for themselves but for those they inadvertently breathe on.

It’s not fair to lump all the unvaccinated into a single category, and for those with a health condition making them ineligible for a shot, a reasonable accommodation should be found. Perhaps a balcony could be cordoned off for this small mask-wearing group or select performances could be streamed not just for them but for anyone who might benefit from a reprieve from the conspiracy rabbit hole.

But again, proof of vaccination would only be a transitional measure, designed to reduce some of the anxiety about public gatherings in this first phase of the reboot. I expect I’ll wear a mask when venturing back to the Taper, regardless of the latest twist in CDC guidelines, but I’d be considerably more relaxed if I knew that everyone around me was also vaccinated.

Vaccination-only venues, such as Radio City Music Hall and the cabaret nightspot Feinstein’s/54 Below, are cropping up in New York. Let’s hope the trend catches on here.

The vaccines are miraculous, but they aren’t foolproof. Breakthrough infections still occur, and though most cases appear to be asymptomatic, hospitalizations and deaths have been reported. No one knows how long protection will last, and there is still the risk of a variant evading our immune response.

Just because I’m wearing a biochemical fire suit doesn’t mean I want to run into a burning building. Or bump elbows with someone with a curious cough. After the trauma of the last 14 months, an adjustment period is going to be necessary, no matter how much faded star Ricky Schroder screams at law-abiding store managers for upholding mask mandates or public intellectual Yascha Mounk hollers about “hygiene theater.”Advertisement

In a pandemic it’s reasonable to be paranoid, and I can’t help noting the number of epidemiologists and physicians admitting that they are still exercising precautions that are no longer strictly required by the CDC. What do they know — or know that they don’t know — that inspires this extra caution?

Finally, and perhaps most important, if the goal is to increase the vaccination rate, then why not use every incentive structure available — sticks as well as carrots? You want to see an effervescent musical, then get a vaccine. Your reluctance isn’t just about how you manage personal risk. There’s a societal cost, which shouldn’t be so easily offloaded.

No one’s forcing the vaccine hesitant to do anything. But they shouldn’t be permitted to impose their choices on us. Access to in-person entertainment is not an unfettered right.

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