Vaccines are the way out of the accursed COVID-19 pandemic, so we should be celebrating the vaccinated at every turn.
So why have so many vaccine clinics in Canada posted aggressive “no photos” posters? Why are so many people getting self-righteous finger-wagging instead of encouragement and praise when they pull out their phones?
Vaccination is not only an individual good, it’s also a societal one. The atmosphere at our vaccination clinics should be celebratory, not funereal.
What better way to tackle vaccine hesitancy than to see Canadians of all ages, shapes and sizes smiling – behind a mask, of course – as they get the jab?
If anything, we should be a mounting a public campaign that rivals Tim Hortons’ annual “roll up the rim” drive, featuring some of the roughly 10 million Canadians who have rolled up their sleeves.
We had the right instincts at the outset of the vaccine rollout. On Dec. 14, 2020, Gisèle Lévesque, an 89-year-old resident of the Saint-Antoine nursing home in Quebec City, received the first COVID-19 vaccination in Canada. She was featured on every newscast in the country.
What followed were images of the first personal support worker to get their vaccine, then the first nurse, then the first doctor, and on and on. Many front-line physicians and nurses have proudly posted photos while getting shots – the first glimmer of hope in their work lives in a long time.
Eventually and ideally, we would get politicians to pose for the cameras, too, especially those who want to convince members of the public that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective.
So why should we treat the public differently? Why is it okay when health-care workers post selfies, but when everyday Joe Schmoes do so, they receive hectoring and shaming?
This question has been much debated in cyberspace, and apparently, there are three principal arguments against selfies: privacy, efficiency and dignity.
Privacy is obviously not an issue for the person taking the selfie. We can take photos of ourselves whenever and however we please. Concerns about privacy of the person administering the vaccine – the nurse, the physician, the pharmacist – are legitimate, but can be easily overcome with a simple conversation. Indeed, most health professionals are proud of their work and would gladly be included in a photo. So we should ask, politely. If they demur, the camera can easily be adjusted to exclude these masked heroes.
Then there’s the argument that people taking selfies waste time. Piffle. Canada’s vaccine rollout is not exactly a well-oiled machine, and if a picture takes a few extra seconds, so what?
Again, this is an act of civic engagement, not a medical act that must be performed in secrecy.
Finally, it has been argued that selfies are, well, selfish – that they can create “vaccine envy.”
That’s preposterous. Yes, there are a lot of people waiting to be vaccinated. Yes, there are inequities. But banning photos does nothing to resolve those issues.
If seeing a photo of someone getting a shot makes us more eager to get ours – well, all the better.
After all, we know there is widespread vaccine hesitancy – not people who are anti-vaccination, but who have legitimate questions and doubts. One of the best ways to overcome that mistrust is by normalizing vaccination. If you see your peers getting vaccinated, you are more likely to do so yourself.
So why would we ban photos? That would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
When this is all over, some of the most poignant memories we will have of the pandemic will be visual: images of empty streets, isolated loved ones at windows, intensive-care units, sourdough bread, and more. Vaccine selfies should have a place of honour among those galleries of remembrance, to mark the long-awaited end of those hardships.
Is there an element of narcissism in selfies? Perhaps. The French word for selfie is “ego portrait,” which seems fitting. But selfies, and images more generally, have become a key way of communicating in the digitally, physically distanced world.
As our vaccination rollout targets younger and younger age groups – Gen X, millennials, Gen Z – we should be encouraging, not quashing, their means of communicating.
This pandemic has provided many lessons for public-health officials, among them that they need to shake off any prurience and embrace any and all platforms that people use to exchange information in their everyday lives.
So tear down those “no photos” posters and bring on the selfies! Fill up Instagram and Twitter feeds with close-ups of the needle. Post the selfies on Facebook for the grandchildren to see. Pull out your phone and boast about the bandage.
Every vaccine we administer should be a smiling celebration of hope, widely shared.
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