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Nevadans Feel Guilt, Envy Online Following COVID Vaccines

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Associated Press

I’m sure you've seen it, pictures and videos on social media of COVID-19 vaccination cards and injections.

Under 18 percent of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Fewer than 10 percent of people have received both doses.

So does posting pictures of vaccination cards and videos of injections on social media do more harm than good? 

Someone who studies ethics when it comes to vaccines is Dr. Johan Bester. He’s the director of bioethics for UNLV’s School of Medicine. 

"I will say that social media has changed the landscape when it comes to rolling out vaccines and thinking about vaccines," Bester said.

He said that when the polio vaccine first came out there was a national celebration, of sorts, because people were so happy to finally have protection from the disease.

Dr. Bester believes there is something similar going now only through social media channels.

He supports it as a way to combat some of the anti-vaccine misinformation that has been amplified by social media. 

"I'm personally quite in favor of anything that combats misinformation or anything that creates enthusiasm about the vaccine because the vaccine is the best hope we have for turning the tide on the pandemic," he said.

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Bester said that is the good side of sharing with followers that you've been vaccinated. 

The bad side of sharing is that it can lead to shaming by people opposed to vaccines or those who wonder why someone has "jumped the line."

"It creates sort of mistrust in the system, mistrust in public health officials, the impression of line jumping," he said, "The idea that something is not quite right. We don't know why someone is in a privileged position to get one."

Bester noted that you can't tell if someone is diabetic just by looking at them. You also don't know the potentially risky circumstances in which someone works.

Besides not knowing someone's circumstances, Bester said that shaming people is usually not effective at changing behavior.

"We know from how people make decisions and how people behave they only really listen to what you say if they trust you. That's why trust is so important in public health and medicine," he said.

He said publically shaming someone for getting vaccinated sets up an 'us-versus-them' dynamic, which is not effective.

Natalie Pennington is an assistant professor of communications at UNLV. She said there is nothing wrong with posting that you've been vaccinated. 

She said some people do it because it feels like an exciting moment that you want to share.

"We want those wins and being able to get that and start to feel a little bit like we're inching towards normalcy is really helpful for a lot of people," she said.

Others may choose to post to help family and friends understand the process and the possible side effects. Those trusted voices could help people who are skeptical about the vaccine feel more comfortable about it.

Pennington said that those who post do need to be prepared for uncomfortable conversations.

"Be aware that if you post that does invite a conversation to justify, and if you aren't comfortable having that conversation, then you might choose not to post," she said.

Dr. Bester did warn about one type of social media post and that is putting your vaccination card online. He said it has a lot of personal information that could be used by identity thieves.

Also, by sharing it publicly, you are waiving your rights to HIPPA protections. Those protections keep your medical information private, but if you share your medical information publicly those protections are gone. 

Guests

Natalie Pennington, Assistant Professor of Communications, UNLV; Dr. Johan C Bester, Director of Bioethics, UNLV School of Medicine 

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