When the Delta variant started wreaking havoc in the U.S. this summer as vaccination rates slowed, health officials tried to fight back by implementing vaccine mandates. Now, many people are required to show proof of full vaccination to work, attend concerts, or dine indoors. But with millions still unvaccinated despite varying requirements, the virus has had a chance to mutate once again—and a highly infectious new variant has hit the U.S. just in time for the winter holidays. Virus experts are even more concerned about this version of the virus, as Omicron appears to be evading existing vaccine protection more than Delta can. However, early research is indicating that booster shots can strengthen the immune response against Omicron considerably, which has spurred new booster mandates.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York City announced on Dec. 15 that it would soon be requiring booster shots for audience members and employees. According to the organization, all those eligible for an additional dose must show proof that they have gotten a booster beginning Jan. 17 in order to attend performances or continue employment.
“On that date, entry to the Met will be restricted to those who have received the booster shot, if eligible. Those not yet eligible will be able to continue to enter but must receive the booster shot shortly after they become eligible,” the Met Opera said in its announcement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 18 years and older are eligible for a booster dose of any of the COVID vaccines once they are six months out from their second dose of an initial mRNA series or two months out from their initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But teenagers ages 16 and 17 are also authorized get a Pfizer booster shot.
Once the Jan. 17 deadline passes, the Met Opera said that it will allow people who are not yet authorized to get a booster a two-week grace period to get their additional shot after they become eligible. “After the two weeks have passed, entry will not be allowed until the booster has been received,” the company said.
According to the announcement, the decision to mandate booster shots was made in consultation with the Met’s health experts at Mount Sinai as a “response to the anticipated wider spread of the Omicron variant.” When the entertainment venue reopened on Sept. 27, it required audience members to be fully vaccinated as well.
“We want everyone who enters our opera house to feel safe,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said in a statement. “We worked hard to reopen in September, and we’re certainly not giving up now. I’m confident that our employees know this action is in their best interests and that our audiences will be in agreement, too.”
According to The New York Times, the Met is the first major performing arts organization in New York City to announce a booster mandate that will apply to both audiences and staff members. “We think we should be setting an example. Hopefully we will have an influence on other performing arts companies as well. I think it’s just a matter of time—everyone is going to be doing this,” Gelb told the newspaper.
But the Met’s booster mandate is not the first overall. Several major universities in the U.S. have announced booster requirements for individuals returning to campus in the spring. Syracuse University announced on Dec. 6 that it will require all eligible students, faculty, and staff who routinely access any university campus location or facility to get a booster shot before the start of the spring semester, or as soon as they become eligible.
Other universities that have announced booster mandates include Notre Dame, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Wesleyan University, and Smith College, according to University Business and Inside Higher Education. “There’s no good reason to hesitate [requiring boosters],” Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, which was one of the first universities to issue a booster mandate, told NPR. “Some people don’t like to be first. But in this case, being first for public health doesn’t seem to be a particularly risky place to be.”