Opinion: Vaccine selfies are important, but they’re not without risks
With the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in full swing, return to pre-pandemic life is within reach—there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, between the large amount of anti-vaccine disinformation on social media and well-founded distrust of the American health care system, there is still a long road ahead to ensure all eligible people in the United States get the vaccine. Aside from the issues of vaccine research, production and distribution, public health requires trust. Fierce Healthcare, a healthcare news website, [lists] “Perceptions about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine” as a primary reason for reluctance to get the vaccine.
Scientists, celebrities and local leaders attempt to build trust and combat disinformation through disseminating factual information to a wide-ranging audience. However, you do not need to have a high-profile position to build trust in the vaccine. Any layperson on social media can build trust through the vaccine selfie.
Photo by Anushka Srivastav.
Widespread “vaccine selfies” builds trust through compelling personal narratives and the powerful social motivator that is the bandwagon effect. Individually, vaccine selfies build trust because, “Personal narratives are incredibly strong. Someone is saying ‘I am not telling you to do something that I’m not doing,’” said Kenzie Cameron, a health services researcher at Northwestern University, in a [POLITICO article].
Additionally, overwhelming social media evidence of people safely getting the COVID-19 vaccine combats disinformation. “Waves of misinformation are inevitable; waves of truth will have to combat them,” said Joanne Kenen, health care editor for POLITICO, in the [same POLITICO article]. Individuals who see others in the community they trust get the vaccine may be more inclined to trust the vaccine. Lucia Mosca (’22) said over email that she appreciated her family and friends sharing the side effects they experienced on social media, “This decreased any hesitancy I had about getting vaccinated.”
Finally, seeing others get the vaccine is invigorating and hopeful. The pandemic has been endlessly stretching on, and seeing good news and optimism sprout on social media feeds is encouraging. “It was exciting to see my friends and people I follow on social media get the vaccine,” said Mosca.
But before you go on posting your vaccine selfie all over social media, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, you should not post an uncensored picture of your vaccine card on social media. Seena Gressin, an attorney in the Division of Consumer & Business Education of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), [recommends against] posting your vaccine card because publicly displaying personal information increases the risk of identity theft. Your vaccine card displays your full name, date of birth, the location of where you got the vaccine and the dates you got them. Gressin explains that “identity theft works like a puzzle, made up of pieces of personal information.” Each piece of information is a puzzle piece that adds to a completed picture that an identity thief can use to steal a person’s identity.
Photo editor Benjamin Burton poses after getting his vaccine.
Second, there is the concern of vaccine guilt, or the fear that posting a vaccine selfie will come across as insensitive or harmful because of the unequal access to the vaccine. This is a valid concern. Privilege and its [overt connection] to vaccine access is [uncomfortable] for many privileged people to reconcile with. Grappling with benefiting from the system is important, and it should move you to advocate for equity in healthcare systems. In terms of vaccine distribution now, however, trying to make distribution more equitable on the individual level will do more harm than good because the main goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible, according to Dan Wikler, a medical ethicist and vaccine ethics specialist at Harvard’s School of Public Health. All in all, the benefit of getting the vaccine now outweighs the risks.
So, how should you go about displaying the fact that you got a vaccine dose? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a “[Social Media Toolkit]” for spreading vaccine awareness, in which they display straightforward pictures of bandaged shoulders and vaccine stickers (they also offer sample social media posts, resources and hashtags). Montana Hunter (’21) recommends giving a Rosie-the-Riveter-style flex with your adhesive bandage on your shoulder. If you get the vaccine at the Oregon State Fairgrounds, there is a picture booth specifically for vaccine selfie. You could also [dance on a frozen lake]. There are many ways to display inoculation, but the important part is to go for it!