Andrea Hsu / NPR
Today, the stringent vaccine requirements in New York are getting even stricter. Anyone aged 12 and over must show full proof of vaccination to dine out, go to the movies, work out in gyms, or attend any type of indoor performance.
For Beata Moon, songwriter, pianist and artist-teacher from Queens, that means she won’t be able to give a recital in February at Musica Reginae, a community concert space..
She can’t attend a March concert at Carnegie Hall, where a piece she composed, putting to music the words of people in a situation of homelessness, will be interpreted.
That’s because Moon, 52, is only partially vaccinated, with an injection of Moderna last March, making it an outlier in New York City, where 4 in 5 adults are fully vaccinated.
Now, in the midst of an astonishing spread of the omicron variant in the United States, there is a renewed campaign to get the first, second and third doses in as many arms as possible. Public health officials, doctors and scientists agree that vaccines remain the most powerful tool we have against serious illness and hospitalization.
“I – honest with God – I believe it is your patriotic duty” to get yourself vaccinated, President Biden said in a speech to omicron last week.
And yet, Moon says his decision is made. She will not receive a second dose.
The excitement over the vaccine gave way to fear
Like many people, Moon was excited about the arrival of vaccines in early 2021.
âMy husband and I couldn’t wait to get it,â she says.
She received a first dose of Moderna at the end of March. But a few weeks later, she started to feel unwell, as though she might pass out. She wondered if this could be Zoom’s fatigue. Her professional life had moved online. She had given workshops and given piano recitals in front of an iPad for months.
Andrea Hsu / NPR
But after waking up one night feeling so dizzy and nauseous that she feared falling, she went to emergency care, where she tested positive for COVID-19. She returned home in quarantine.
For the first time in her life, she began to experience ringing in the ears, or tinnitus. Slowly she improved. And then, over the summer, her symptoms returned. The ringing in the ear was more pronounced: a high pitched sound, ringing, sometimes with variations in volume.
Tinnitus, a common condition under normal circumstances, has been widely reported after COVID-19
Tinnitus is a common condition. Each year, about 10% of adults in the United States experience at least one episode.
In the CDC vaccine adverse event reporting system, there were approximately 13,000 cases of tinnitus as of December 17, cases self-reported by patients and health care providers.
People who have fallen ill with COVID-19 have also complained of ringing in the ears. In the UK, the National Health Service lists tinnitus as a common side effect of long Covid. And a review of the scientific literature published in the International Journal of Audiology found that tinnitus was a commonly documented symptom in COVID-19 patients, with around 14.8% suffering from it. The authors noted a dearth of high-quality scientific studies on the subject.
Moon has friends and family who believe his tinnitus is due to his battle with COVID-19, not the vaccine. But she came to a different conclusion after hearing from an online community of people who share stories of severe vaccine reactions.
“Because so many others have similar problems – or even worse problems – after the vaccine, while they were healthy,” she says.
240 million people have been vaccinated in the United States, the vast majority without serious side effects
His position has been met with skepticism – and hostility. And in some ways, she understands why.
More than 240 million people in the United States have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The vast majority went very well.
âTo be honest, if I hadn’t been through this, I don’t know if I would have believed when people say, ‘Oh, I’m really suffering from these side effects,’â Moon said.
If that doesn’t happen to you, she says, it’s easy to call someone an anti-vaccine or a conspiracy theorist.
In New York City, virtually everyone she knows is fully immunized. Some of his family do not understand his decision. However, for her, it is settled.
She is worried that the vaccine will make her ringing ears worse, so she will not receive a second dose.
âI just can’t take that risk,â she said. “As a musician, my ears are my life.”
It avoids crowded indoor spaces and large gatherings. She wears a mask whenever she is indoors with others.
Vaccine Requirements Can Only Get Tighter Amid Omicron
The irony is that the very thing Moon is trying to protect – her career as a musician – is what is held back by her decision not to get a second shot.
Even before today, New York City had some of the toughest vaccine requirements in the country. As a freelance musician, Moon works with many organizations across town, most notably as a teaching artist at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. It is looked at as one by one, they have imposed vaccine mandates – for the employees and also for the public.
Beata Moon is not looking for sympathy.
âFortunately, I had virtual work, and not much happened in person,â she says.
But she wants people to stop judging her, to stop making assumptions. She hopes people will replace judgment with curiosity.
She also hopes there will be more research on natural immunity – what protection a previous COVID-19 infection can provide.
And she wants to rethink the mandates, especially now that scientists say this coronavirus may never go away.
âIt’s something we have to learn to live with and deal with, and so we need a lot more nuance and flexibility,â she says.
It is a difficult time to make such an argument, as new cases have reached record highs and more than 800,000 people in the United States alone have died from COVID-19. It also looks like things are going the other way.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said she intended to introduce legislation to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to include boosters. With data showing that boosters significantly increase protection against the omicron variant, it’s an idea that is quickly gaining traction across the country.