Large gatherings should mandate COVID-19 booster shots in the future

Zoe Binder and Lucia Verzola

Staff Writers

The Soul Rebels perform at Outside Lands. PHOTO BY BEAU TATTERSALL/ SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN 

For the first time in over two years, thousands of people flocked to Golden Gate Park for three consecutive days of performances and celebration at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. More than 75,000 people attended the festival, not including the over 60 musical acts that performed over the course of the weekend, leaving many to feel that pre-pandemic normalcy has returned.

Music festivals of this size returned across the U.S. earlier this summer, with festivals like Bottlerock NapaValley and Rolling Loud attracting 120,000 and 80,000 people respectively. For us, the event marked the first time since the start of the pandemic that we were exposed to enormous groups of largely unmasked people.

While the festival’s website encouraged attendees to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status, it was not enforced as a policy, leading most people to remove their masks after having entered the festival grounds. However, attendees were required to either provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of the event to gain entrance. 

Knowing that everyone at the festival was legitimately checked for COVID-19 brought some peace of mind when standing shoulder to shoulder with people in the middle of crowds. Yet, we can’t help but wonder how many COVID-19 cases will arise from this event, with the likelihood of infection being much higher in crowds of unmasked people.

Since the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster shot was approved in late September and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen boosters were approved just at the end of last month, federal regulators have recommended it for the elderly, those with underlying conditions, and those at high risk of contracting the virus. Vaccine administration sites are not exclusive to these groups, however; anyone can attest to their own need for the booster shot in San Francisco.

With the return of large gatherings like festivals, booster shots seem like a logical precaution for those who plan to attend such events. Though it is unrealistic to assume that all people have access to getting their booster shot now, it is not out of reach for events to require proof of both vaccination and a booster shot once it becomes more widely available. 

According to the CDC, those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine should get their booster at least six months after their second shot. With proven lower effectiveness, those who received the J&J/Janssen vaccine should get their booster two months after receiving their initial vaccine. Individuals do not need to get the same booster as their initial vaccine; instead, they can “mix and match” between vaccines. However, there are caveats that come with each initial vaccine that should be considered when choosing which booster to get. 

For those who received the Pfizer vaccine, the first and second shot were spaced three weeks apart. Both the initial vaccine shots and its booster contain 30 micrograms of the vaccine. Moderna’s initial shots contain 100 micrograms, while the booster is approved at a half dose. According to Reuters, “a U.S.-government study of mixed booster shots found that people who followed a J&J shot with an mRNA booster had significantly higher levels of protective neutralizing antibodies.”

As we each make our decision regarding boosters, Californians can receive their vaccine booster by making an appointment or finding a walk-in clinic through My Turn. One doesn’t have to receive their shot in the county where they work or live and might be recommended to get their shot elsewhere. If one is unable to travel for health reasons or lack of transportation, the California Department of Health will call you to set up transportation or an in-home appointment. 

Though it is unknown when COVID-19 booster shots will become readily available to all, we must consider what it means to return to huge crowds like that at Outside Lands. USF students already have the opportunity to receive the booster with a simple explanation, and students who work for the university are eligible regardless. 

While standing in crowds felt relatively comfortable at Outside Lands because of the imposed safety guidelines, we cannot deny the increased chances of infection at the event. Receiving the booster shot will provide additional safety as large events like this continue to take place in the future. Considering the booster shot is essential as we continue to do our part to navigate the ongoing presence of COVID-19 in San Francisco. 

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