The current moment in medicine is defined by the vaccine selfie. Pictures on Twitter and Instagram have marked a turning point in the COVID pandemic where desperate health professionals have begun to show defiance.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson has another take on the vaccine selfie. She posted a wonderful thread suggesting that the vaccine selfie could have some downsides. While she needs no introduction, WSS is a power thinker in the area of child health, vaccines and public engagement. In the earlier years of Twitter Dr. Swanson was front-and-center as a vaccine advocate and champion of science when most of our current influencers had never heard of Twitter.
So check it out. Here are some snippets from her thread.
Some of the COVID vax selfies by medical peeps feel entitled/smug to me. Worry it may have opposite effect in a time of vaccine scarcity. In fact, IMO, medical tweets/images may cast division between the public and health care workers. Perhaps even increase distrust. In many current doc/RN selfies, I don’t see sameness. I can see exclusivity. Like others I am BEYOND pleased frontline workers are getting immunized.
Many of us (me included) are wildly eager to be immunized and will wait for months. Grateful for the pioneering vax, research, and early recipients, and allocation thoughtfulness. But vaccine #FOMO is real.
Physician-nurse-healthcare worker-med staff leadership comes now with a gentleness. Not bravado. Recognizing the ridiculous toll our healthcare workforce have incurred, and the relief one can feel when getting the vax, I realize the tall order not to immediately post the pic.
A couple of thoughts:
The story of vaccine distribution is evolving
I will add that discrepancies in vaccine distribution have become more evident week over week. As someone who believed that every patient-facing provider would have reasonably immediate access to the Pfizer vaccine during phase 1, I had no reason to think my image would create feelings of distance and division.
But I see it. I can see how the vaccine selfie could create a divide. And I am concerned that this sense of division will grow. As the distribution divide shows itself, we’ll continue to see a health community pitted person against person. Vaccine distribution will expose the differences in values that course though our communities and health delivery system. As Bob Wachter suggested on Twitter on December 17th, The vaccine rollout is a window into the culture and priorities of an organization.
This from Vinay Prasad on Twitter:
Posting a vaccine selfie went from being a simple way to persuade the hesitant to an all-out text, email and DM discussion about who is getting access first and whether that makes any sense at all….I am betting the selfies will come less often.
The public needs to see physicians taking the vaccine
While I am inclined to feel bad for sharing my image we have to recognize those willing to show that they believe in the the minds and science behind this vaccine. The public is dangerously distrustful of the vaccine. I’m still shocked by medical colleagues who sheepishly concede to ‘waiting just a bit’ before getting the vaccine. The number of front line medical assistants in elderly care centers refusing to take the vaccine is frightening given the risk to this fragile population.
So while I can see how the vaccine selfie may look, I think there’s some merit from the ‘Twitter storm’ of health professionals showing their #fauciouchies for all the world to see.
And there are those who worked through the hellscape of The City in March. Seeing them now with their bandaids is a priceless display of personal victory.
I have come to realize the power of my decision to take the vaccine. In places where I meet people and talk to them, they ask in hushed tones with shifting eyes, ‘So…did you take The Vaccine?’ When I share that I did, I can see the wheels spinning. I can win them over with who I am. It’s a weird superpower that will never go to my head. But this power of grassroots endorsement is more critical than ever.
And the piece de resistance….
I believe in the BOUNTY of a vaccinated population. As a pediatrician I know being immunized against COVID19 will bring safety, freedom, belonging, protection & promise. I don’t want to mess up the opportunity for those with an “early shot” to lead and influence as we all watch.
Share your COVID19 vaccine selfies with humility, carefully writing words alongside it that consider others who cannot get the vaccine yet.
Something to think about.
Wendy’s voice shows the power of perspective and difference in a medical world that walks in lockstep with blaring medical voices and selfie takers. She is a quiet but mighty voice of independent thinking.
Civil and persuasive challenges to one way of seeing the world are something I need and miss.
Get stuff like this in your inbox. Sign up for the 33charts newsletter. Weekly curation and articles that deliver insight into medicine, technology and culture.