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OPINION | KAREN MARTIN: This is no time for virtue-signaling

by Karen Martin | March 21, 2021 at 8:29 a.m.
Karen Martin

So, you got your covid-19 vaccine. Good for you. I bet you're happy to have made it this far. Many haven't.

You should celebrate your achievement. It probably wasn't easy. But celebrating doesn't need to include posting a social-media image of yourself, shirt shoulder dropped and grinning brightly, as a medical professional injects you.

When the vaccine first became available at the beginning of the year, it was important for medical experts (Dr. Anthony Fauci) and elected officials (Vice-President Kamala Harris) to set an example for others, to show that getting the shot is the right thing to do, not only for yourself, but for your family, friends, and the general public, if ending this wretched pandemic is our goal.

But now, these ubiquitous photos are coming across as merely self-important humble-bragging. Unless you are a bona fide influencer, they don't do any good except to make others--who might not have the wherewithal, the connections, the proper category of job, the willingness to lie about their situation (one of my relatives claimed to be the caretaker of his 84-year-old mother-in-law, which isn't true; she has a full-time job and no need of his ministrations other than asking him to mow the lawn from time to time), or the time and technical ability to scamper around on the Internet in search of a vaccine appointment--feel bad, discouraged, and even hopeless that they haven't succeeded in winning a game that hasn't been played fairly from the start.

It's even worse when some of this post-vaccine cohort follow up their virtual-signaling with cheery images of themselves and a group of their vaccinated fellows at a huge table in a crowded Tex-Mex restaurant, sharing queso and tacos and toasting each other with frozen Margaritas.

Don't others feel badly enough already?

Although the Center for Disease Control offers no guidance on the finer points of vaccine etiquette, Steven Petrow, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post who writes about civil discourse, does. During a recent interview on NPR's "Weekend Edition" with Lulu Garcia-Navarro, he was asked about the selfie situation.

"It's changed in the last two months," he said, after starting out with medical professionals posting selfies to share their belief that the vaccine is safe.

Now, he continues, there are so many others, "and it's not really clear why they're doing it. A badge of courage? A bit of bragging? I have a problem with bragging."

Garcia-Navarro, who is Hispanic, pushed back, saying she had posted a selfie of her vaccination to encourage other Hispanics to get the shot, which Petrow agreed is a good reason. And they both feel that many recipients were posting pictures to share their joy, to spread the word that something is actually happening to bring the pandemic to an end.

But still ... Just don't.

Petrow pointed out a few other etiquette rights and wrongs, such as: Is it OK to ask someone how they qualified for a vaccine? "No, it's not," he said. "Turn it around; think about [health] conditions someone might have that they don't want to disclose."

However, he adds, it's OK to ask someone how they managed to get a vaccine appointment. It might help them in finding a vaccination source that was previously unknown.

What about navigating social gatherings as we slowly try to regain the ability to spend time with others? Is it OK to ask others if they've been vaccinated? "When you have a gathering, go to the lowest common denominator," Petrow says. "Continue to be outdoors, continue to mask, continue to distance; that way you're protecting everybody."

And finally, is it appropriate to tell others you've been vaccinated?

"Self-disclosure is right if you're comfortable in doing so," Petrow says. He quotes Edmund Burke, who said "Manners are of more importance than laws."

It's up to us to adopt and accept behaviors that take care of those we care about."

Are you in a position to influence others to get vaccinated? If so, put yourself out there as an example to help us be rid of the pandemic. If not, let's draw the line at vaccine selfies.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.


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