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Smile, You're Vaccinated! The Rise Of The COVID-19 Vaccine Selfie


The COVID-19 vaccine selfie - you know the one I'm talking about - the one where people pose with their white CDC-issued vaccine cards or the one with a person gleefully pointing to their arm with a brown Band-Aid, announcing which one they got. As the vaccination pace picks up, the trend has moved from crying medical workers to politicians and smiling celebrities to your neighbors and your friends. Vanessa Friedman is the director of fashion at The New York Times, and she's written about how vaccine selfies came into vogue. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.

VANESSA FRIEDMAN: Thanks very much. Nice to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You write about the pose. Describe that for us.

FRIEDMAN: It's the one everyone knows. It's the person who is either standing or most often sitting, their sleeve rolled up or, increasingly, it seems like their entire shirt hiked off, shoulder bared, with a health care worker kind of poised above them, ready to jab them with a vaccine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the significance?

FRIEDMAN: It was funny because I started seeing these all over my social media feed and then started researching them, and it goes all the way back as a image to, like, the late 18th century. As long as there have been vaccines - since literally the beginning of vaccines, there have been pictures of people getting vaccines. And it's really because this is a kind of classic mode of health care communications.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you talked to a bunch of public health experts about this, and can you just sort of give me a sense of their take on this current incarnation of the vaccine selfie?

FRIEDMAN: Well, this is really the first, you know, social media pandemic. Clearly, it's the first pandemic we've had in 100 years, so it's the first even social media epidemic. You know, because social media, as we know it, even though it feels like it's been with us forever, has only really been with us for, you know, a decade or less. And so what that means is that this kind of use of imagery in communications around public health has transmogrified from being something that was maybe part of advertising or part of a government-sponsored campaign and has become crowdsourced.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you this. I've seen a lot of think pieces about the vaccine selfie, and a lot of them have said, oh, it's bragging. I strenuously disagree for all the reasons you've mentioned. But it's weird - in this moment, there's a lot of sort of vaccine shaming also going on - sort of like any public celebration of this should somehow be disavowed. What are your thoughts on that?

FRIEDMAN: There is certainly a risk when you - someone takes a vaccine selfie of seeming as though they're bragging about getting it because there are communities that are not - and countries that are not able to get vaccines to the same extent that certain communities in the United States are. But if a picture can help even one person to get a vaccine who might not necessarily otherwise, that is on balance a good thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So which vaccine selfie is your favorite?

FRIEDMAN: I don't know. I've got to go with Marc Jacobs. I think above the European politicians without their shirts on - I do think the rise of the shirtless vaccine selfie is a little bit of a weird phenomenon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this, for people who may not know, is - many European politicians, you know, were wearing button-up. shirts and then would sort of take off almost their entire shirt, bare chested, getting their jab.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. These are really not, like, Ralph Lauren underwear models, you know?


FRIEDMAN: But I honestly - like, I think it may be that we've just been inside for so long, people have literally forgotten how to dress for this particular occurrence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times. Oh, actually, let me ask you, did you take a vaccine selfie?

FRIEDMAN: I did not take a vaccine selfie, but I have had a vaccine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

FRIEDMAN: Nice to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.