Last week, Jahan Fahimi, director of the emergency department at UCSF, made a request of his 5,000 Twitter followers: “Anyone have any short term workout suggestions to make my deltoids really pop when I take a vaccine selfie?” The tweet garnered 42 replies, most of them from people wearing white coats in their avatars. (“Download photoshop,” said one. Another: “Use the buttock for the shot and crop the pic.”)
Days later, Fahimi posted a picture of himself receiving the vaccine, as have countless other health-care workers, making the vaccine selfie (or “vaxxies,” as I’m sorry to report I’ve seen them called) a fast-growing trend. While the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine is, for now, available only to frontline health-care professionals and residents of long-term care facilities, eventually it will be available to us all, and if #medtwitter is any indication, we’re all going to want to take hot pictures of ourselves getting it.
As the group luckiest to get the COVID vaccine first, health-care professionals were also, perhaps, the least able to get swole in advance. Jennifer Huang, an assistant professor in pediatric cardiology at Oregon Health and Science University, who wondered whether she’d be able to get her deltoid ‘looking prime’ for her selfie, says she recognized the endeavor was futile. “I was joking, because there’s no way I’d get my arms looking fresh for a photo in time for the vaccine,” she explains. “If you saw my selfie, my body is covered in many layers, and my arm is not front and center.” Nonetheless, Huang thinks COVID vaccination provides something many of us have missed throughout the pandemic: an excuse to post a selfie.
“With the pandemic there’s been fewer opportunities for selfies — no travel, no gatherings,” she says. “This is a fun time to show off.” A couple months ago, the presidential election performed a similar, dual function: an encouragement (or outright plea) to vote, and an excuse to post one’s beautiful face to social media.
There are, however, new hurdles to consider when preparing to photograph one’s beautiful arm. Mark A. Lewis, the director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare explains that while he joked about pumping iron prior to his vaccination, he didn’t do any preparatory weight lifting beyond what he does already. “Lifting has been part of my routine,” he says. “My son, who is 9, likes to mock me for having a dad bod.” Lewis says friends of his joked that a photo they saw of an “absolutely jacked” nurse getting the vaccine was what he had to live up to. Unfortunately, the nurse who administered Lewis’s vaccine specifically told him not to flex during his injection. “They inject into the deltoid, and it actually helps the penetration if you’re not flexing your arm,” he explains, a tad wistfully.
Others were subject to similar misfortunes. Kate McDonald, an emergency medicine physician assistant, expressed remorse at having been told she couldn’t take a vaccine selfie on-site. “I DJ as a hobby, so I’m always trying to keep my deltoids and triceps on point,” she tells me. “Gotta look good when I’m twisting that filter knob.” McDonald, who spins under the name DJ Sideboob, explains that her go-to exercises are skullcrushers or “that water-bottle-behind-the-head tricep thing Miranda would do while power walking on Sex and the City,” except with actual weights.
As with anything any discernible group of people is openly enjoying, there is already a bit of a backlash to the vaccine selfie: Conservatives have called them “virtue signalling,” while others have called them boastful. “I can understand how it might seem like gloating, but I think it’s important to show we think it’s safe,” says Lewis. Fahimi, too, is empathetic to the critics. “There are a lot of people who really want the vaccine, and I know healthcare workers who are in high risk areas but their hospitals didn’t have really early access,” he says. Nevertheless, he says, the perceived value in posting is too high not to.
“There’s more value in building public confidence in the vaccine than there is harm in making people feel left out,” adds Fahimi. “We’re all just so exhausted by this year, and this is a nice bookend to give folks a sense of optimism for the upcoming year.”
Stephen Halliday, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, agrees that vaccine selfies are necessary morale-boosters. “An added bonus of the vaccine selfies going around social media is that it provides a glimmer of hope and sense of solidarity for medical workers who are almost universally burned out right now,” he says. That said, not everyone is participating. “My wife finds this whole situation hilarious,” adds Halliday. “She is a nurse, and did not post a vaccine selfie, FWIW.”