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A Vaccination Announcement On Social Media May Bring On Negative Responses

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Whether or not needles make you squirm, for many people, getting a COVID vaccine is a moment of joy, a ray of hope after a year of loss and isolation. Some of the newly vaccinated have eagerly shared their status on social media, proudly showing off selfies with health care workers. The posts show I'm vaccinated stickers and Band-Aids. But others - well, they're hesitant to share for a whole variety of reasons. Katherine J. Wu spoke to more than a dozen vaccinated people who kept their news private, and she wrote about it in The Atlantic.

Welcome.

KATHERINE J WU: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: So, you know, this vaccination campaign has been super-public so far. And on a personal level, people want to know who's been vaccinated and why they've qualified so far. So how do you think all of that curiosity we've had about who's getting vaccinated and why - how do you think that's affected the people who have been vaccinated so far?

WU: Yeah. We're in this incredible moment of tension right now. I don't think we've ever had a vaccination campaign this public. And with vaccines still in kind of short supply, I think we're just in this situation where everyone who is still further back in line and hasn't really been called to the front is wondering, why hasn't it been me yet? And then by proxy, why has it been you?

CHANG: Well, let's talk about that because you've been speaking to all of these vaccinated people about their decision not to post about their shots on social media. What sort of factors did they consider before arriving at that decision?

WU: Yeah. I think the reasons here really run the gamut, but the big theme that I think really emerged to me is that people are very afraid of how they look to others. You know, is it right that they were able to get their shot before their 80-year-old neighbor for whatever reason? Is that right that their state qualified them first before the state next door would have? People look at photos, and they think, well, this person isn't old. They're not wearing scrubs. They're not a health care worker. I don't get it. Is it possible that they jumped the line? Is it possible that they faked something? But a lot of people aren't ready to be like, hey; the reason I got vaccinated is I have these eight conditions. Let me tell you all about them. That's so personal for some people.

CHANG: Exactly. I mean, there has been a lot of policing of whether someone lied about themself to get a vaccine. And these posts can generate a lot of suspicion.

WU: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I don't want to gloss over the fact that line-jumping has occurred. And it's really hard not to think of these cases when you see someone and you don't immediately draw the connection. Oh, I clearly see why this person got vaccinated. And that obviously signals to me, like, this person got it before me because of this super-obvious reason.

CHANG: Is there a particular anecdote that you discovered while reporting this story that has stayed with you?

WU: I think the one that stuck with me the most is one that I do have to be careful about because this person did ask me to describe them only anonymously. This is a person who was living in New York. He qualified for the vaccine because he has been living with HIV for a number of years. And that is not a status that he has disclosed to many of the people in his life, including even his parents. His parents don't know that he has HIV. It qualified him to get the vaccine, but he hasn't told anyone about his vaccination because it would invite all of these questions about why, and he didn't want to lie.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, that is a reason that's borne out of wanting to have privacy over your health information. Can we just talk about the value of posting about vaccinations in the first place? Like, do you think there is real value for people looking at all of these social media posts when they see someone they know getting vaccinated?

WU: I think a lot of the people who are posting these photos - they're doing it for a couple of reasons. You know, one, they haven't had a lot to celebrate this past year. But a lot of people also told me, like, I'm not just doing this for me. I'm not doing it to brag. I'm doing it because I'm hoping people in my community will see these photos. And they're getting responses.

CHANG: Yeah.

WU: Like, oh, you got the shot. I feel a lot better about the prospect of myself getting the shot a couple of weeks from now because I have this physical evidence that you did it with a smile on your face and it went really well for you.

CHANG: Katherine J. Wu is a staff writer for The Atlantic.

Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to speak with you.

WU: You, too. Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETIT BISCUIT'S "SUNSET LOVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.