The Washington Post
To selfie or not to selfie?
Should people post photos of themselves getting a coronavirus shot? Depends whom you ask.
Why not everyone is sharing the social media joy of those getting vaccinated.
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 been vaccinated — about 53 million in the United States had received at least one shot as of Thursday — the debate is unfolding in the media. “Cool it with the vaccine selfies for a while,” read the headline of a Boston Globe opinion column. “Go Ahead, Share Your Vaccine Selfie,” an Atlantic headline said.
Some people despise seeing the smiley selfies while a virus that has killed more than 2.5 million people worldwide continues to take a toll and as most Americans who want to be vaccinated still are unable to get a dose.
But public health experts hope photos of people being safely vaccinated will encourage their vaccine-hesitant social media connections to do the same. About 1 in 3 Americans said they definitely would not or probably would not get a coronavirus vaccination, according to a recent Associated PRESS-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research 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” (or “FOMO”), journalist Miles Howard argued in the Globe column. It also highlights inequities, selfie critics say, as people with better access to health care have had an easier time getting vaccinated.
“By all means celebrate, but celebrate privately,” Alan Drummond, a Canadian emergency physician, said to other doctors in remarks for the Conversation, an academiacentric 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, the Atlantic called the posting of vaccination selfies “a public service.” Writer Brit Trogen argued that the emotional moment being captured is worth illustrating to counter the personal stories shared by anti-vaccine groups that diminish trust.
“The thousands of photographs of healthcare workers beaming into the camera lens or shedding tears of joy and relief offer a profound emotional counterpart to the over
whelming statistics of the pandemic,” Trogen wrote.
Although most people cannot yet get shots, health-care workers can, and people with influence and respect in their communities, such as physicians, have the power to persuade others to be vaccinated with encouraging posts, said Richard Baron, the president and chief executive of the American Board of Internal Medicine. The board suggested that its members post vaccine 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.
Public officials have taken that cue, sharing their vaccinations publicly to reassure others, including President Biden and Vice President Harris, who were given shots at news gatherings. Celebrities have shared their experience with their large audience: NBC “Today”-show weatherman Al Roker received his first dose on the show live. “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness, who is HIVpositive, posted his mid-shot selfie on Instagram, writing in the caption that people with underlying conditions should check their state’s eligibility requirements for appointments.
Offering selfie stations, or spaces that are decorated at vaccination sites to allow people to pose and post from those locations, is one method officials have used to encourage posts.
Last week, conservative commentator Noah Rothman took aim 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 helped to normalize vaccinations.
“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 photos of himself receiving his vaccinations, he did not show the needles, to avoid scaring people away, and he smiled — albeit through a mask.
He said he wanted to express the joy that came from receiving immune protection from the virus — and from taking a big step toward a return to normal life.
“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, tweeted a video 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, ’ cause 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 selfies to embolden other Black people, a population that has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic but has expressed skepticism about vaccinations.
Manning acknowledged in the video that Black people who feel unsure about the vaccinations have various reasons for their hesitancy. “If you got questions, we listening, 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, referring to a lingering mistrust of the medical system rooted in a history of prejudice, including the infamous syphilis study in Tuskegee, Ala., that monitored Black men with the disease and let them suffer and die 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.”
The outreach to those who are unsure about the medical system also should not end with posting selfies, said Manning, who has worked at Grady for the past two decades. She said it is important to continue the dialogue about mistrust. The “Hamilton”-esque video was part of that.
“This is deeper than a post on social media,” Manning said. “This is a lifestyle for a lot of us.”
“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.” Richard Baron, president and chief executive of the American Board of Internal Medicine