Given a shot at a coronavirus vaccine, many Americans say they would roll up their sleeves. But the decision to post a photo of the moment isn’t as black and white.
People are divided over “vaccine selfie” etiquette. As more people have become immunized – 47.2 million people in the United States have received one or both doses as of Saturday – the debate is unfolding online and in print: “Cool it with the vaccine selfies for a while,” read a Boston Globe editorial headline. “Go ahead, share your vaccine selfie,” the Atlantic’s Brit Trogen wrote.
Some people despise the smiley selfies, as the virus that has killed more than 2.5 million people worldwide continues to take its toll. And most Americans are still unable to get a dose.
Yet, public health experts hope photos of people getting vaccinated safely will encourage their vaccine-hesitant social media followers to do the same. About 1 in 3 Americans said they definitely would not or probably would not get the coronavirus vaccine, according to a recent AP/NORC poll.
Posting a vaccine selfie when many are still not on the priority lists is boastful and could end up inflaming people’s fear of missing out (otherwise identified online as “FOMO”), journalist Miles Howard argued in the Globe editorial. It also highlights inequities, selfie critics say, as people with better health-care access have had an easier time getting vaccinated.
“By all means celebrate, but celebrate privately,” Alan Drummond, a Canadian emergency physician told the Conversation, an academia-centric newsroom. “Just don’t do it so publicly when a lot of your colleagues who are dealing with this stuff are dealing with their own anxieties and fears. We get it – we’re happy for you. Just don’t rub salt in our wounds.”
In stark contrast, Trogen in the Atlantic called posting “a public service” because the emotional moment captured in a vaccine selfie is worth illustrating to counter the personal stories shared by anti-vaccine groups that diminish trust.
“The thousands of photographs of health-care workers beaming into the camera lens or shedding tears of joy and relief offer a profound emotional counterpart to the overwhelming statistics of the pandemic,” Trogen said.
While most people cannot get their vaccines yet, health-care workers can, and people with influence and respect in their communities such as physicians have the power to persuade others to get vaccinated with encouraging posts, according to Richard Baron, the president and chief executive of the American Board of Internal Medicine, which suggested its members post selfies and affirming messages such as “I got vaccinated and you should, too!”
“I think we need to use every channel available,” Baron said in an interview.
Selfie stations, or spaces that are decorated at vaccination sites to allow people to pose and post from the facility, is one method officials have used to encourage posts.
On Thursday, conservative commentator Noah Rothman took a shot at a decked-out selfie station at a New Jersey mass vaccination site, calling the photo op “dystopian” considering the setting: “a recently liquidated Lord & Taylor that had been converted by the military and FEMA into a venue to mitigate the ongoing global plague.”
Baron, like many users who responded to Rothman’s post, disagreed that the selfie station was inappropriate if it normalized vaccines.
“It makes it normative,” Baron said. “It makes it the thing to do.”
Before uploading your selfie, you should make sure you have permission from people in the photo and leave out your personal information such as your Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card. the Federal Trade Commission advised.
When Baron posted his own photos of receiving both doses, he didn’t include the needle to avoid scaring people away, and he smiled – albeit through a mask.
He said he wanted to express the joy that comes with receiving immune protection from the virus, which will eventually get people back to normalcy.
“If you’ve been vaccinated, there are things you can do – restaurants, airplanes,” he said. “You still want people wearing masks, but there’s a lot of good reasons for people to want the vaccine, and getting people excited about that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all.”
Kimberly Manning, a physician at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital, kept up the enthusiasm in a video she tweeted after she was vaccinated, freestyling to the tune of the song “My Shot” from the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
“I’m not throwing away my shot,” Manning rapped. “Let’s make a toast, just got my second dose. I’m still gonna rock a mask and not stand close, ‘cuz this SARS-CoV-2 is not playin, people dyin’, disabled. I’m sayin’ if a vaccine will help us I’m with it.'”
Black doctors such as Manning have shared their own selfies to embolden their Black patients who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic but also feel skeptical about the vaccines.
Manning in the video acknowledges that Black people who feel unsure about the vaccine have various reasons for their hesitancy. “If you got questions, we listen, we ears, but don’t lose your life over undiscussed fears,” she rhymed.
People who post about getting vaccinated should be considerate of those different perspectives without lumping them together, Manning said in an interview. Those concerns include legitimate fears, she said, referencing a lingering mistrust of the medical system rooted in a history of prejudice, including the infamous syphilis study in Tuskegee, Ala., that let Black men suffer and die from the disease without treatment.
“I believe science is real,” she said. “But I also know that history is real. I know that it’s real that people who look like me – long before the untreated syphilis study in Macon County, Alabama – were tortured and mistreated in the name of science.”
Reaching out to patients who are unsure about the medical system also doesn’t stop with posting a selfie, Manning said. After working at her hospital for the last two decades, she said it’s important to continue the dialogue about mistrust. The “Hamilton-esque” video was part of that, she said.
“This is deeper than a post on social media,” Manning said. “This is a lifestyle for a lot of us.”