On Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 5:44 CST, I received my second of the two Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at Rush University Medical Center where I work as a clinical psychologist.
Although I tend to limit how much personal information I post on social media, I posted a photo of me, face shield and all, receiving my first injection. If you are on social media I encourage you to do the same, if or when you are able to get it.
Today, as I write this, there are over 104 million cases and 2.2 million deaths globally due to the pandemic. In more ways than one, the last year has been devastating for medical professionals who have lost their jobs, worked without ceasing, and witnessed constant illness and death. In some states, medical personnel account for as many as 20% of those with COVID. As medical professionals, we know COVID-19 is real, because we see the effects first hand. Unfortunately, we also hear the stories from those who don’t believe COVID-19 is real.
Although social media may be destroying the fabric of American society in some ways, we can still utilize it for good. Medical professionals have a unique opportunity now to flip the switch, and flood social media with accurate medical information about COVID-19, as well as publicly share that we are getting the vaccine to help normalize it and reduce stigma.
Baseless conspiracy claims about the COVID-19 vaccine are running rampant on social media. The Lancet reviewed a report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, indicating that 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. These conspiracy theories and fake news are alarming, and to be frank, quite terrifying given how deadly COVID-19 has been and continues to be.
This new year we should be filled with hope and joy, not fear, due to the unprecedented speed at which this vaccine was developed and is now becoming available.
We must combat this fear and the stigma that follows, and normalize getting the vaccine. Many public figures (including Anthony Fauci, MD, and President Joe Biden) are doing just that: publicly displaying videos, photos, and tweets of themselves receiving the vaccine.
However, some Americans may be skeptical about the vaccine, and rightfully so.
COVID-19 illness and death is disproportionately affecting Black communities. Yet, despite these alarming statistics, Black Americans are hesitant to get the vaccine. This should not surprise us in the medical field. Black Americans, and people of color, have a good reason to be skeptical due to a long history of medical racism, violence, and repeated abuse of power and privilege by some in the medical community. This is why many public leaders who identify as people of color are publicly joining in the social media vaccine parade to reduce stigma, especially in Black and Latinx communities.
Although the U.S. clinical trials for the two COVID-19 vaccines do not perfectly match the U.S. demographics in terms of race and ethnicity, both trials enrolled more Black and Hispanic participants than most vaccine trials have in the past. Don’t get me wrong, there is still more work to do. Scientists need to continue to include representative samples of participants in vaccine trials. They also must continue to work to build trust with communities of color.
Another group of individuals who may hold skepticism and fear about getting the vaccine are women who are trying to conceive (TTC), pregnant, or breastfeeding. Personally, I have already seen the myths start to spread on Facebook about the COVID-19 vaccine having potential negative side effects for the fetus. My friends who are TTC or pregnant are justifying on social media why they chose to get vaccinated, or sharing concerns offline about not knowing if it is safe.
This is another opportunity for medical professionals to step in, consult with women and help them make informed decisions. I am not an obstetrician, but I have read through the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendations to provide me with factual information for such discussions with my clients, friends, and colleges.
Both ACOG and the CDC inform us that being pregnant is linked with an increased risk of having a severe case of COVID-19. Black and Hispanic women who are pregnant are also at a disproportionately higher chance of getting COVID-19 or dying from the illness. Although there are no data to suggest that there is zero risk if you get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding, the data are clear that pregnant women who get COVID-19 are at a higher risk of experiencing more severe illness compared to women who are not pregnant.
ACOG goes on to explicitly state, “It is expected that the safety and efficacy profile of the vaccine for pregnant individuals would be similar to that observed in non-pregnant individuals…. Furthermore, ACOG recommends vaccination of individuals who are actively trying to become pregnant or are contemplating pregnancy … [and] recommends COVID-19 vaccines be offered to lactating individuals.”
To be clear, ACOG recognizes that the choice to get vaccinated is an individual one and encourages all individuals sitting with this choice to consult with their medical providers.
This is true for all individuals. Medical decision-making should be collaborated and include both the patient and the medical professional. We as medical professionals need to understand why certain communities may hold fear and mistrust. We need to provide accurate, evidence-based information. We must dispel the fear, stigma, and lies, and normalize getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Looking forward to seeing your selfie on social media.
Jennifer A. Coleman, PhD, is assistant clinical director and clinical psychologist at the Road Home Program: The Center for Veterans and Their Families, and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Last Updated February 05, 2021