Vaccine FOMO Is Real
Social media has been an accelerant to the demise of so many once-foundational aspects of our collective culture, from democracy to journalism to basic human decency, but I have to say, as a 45-year-old human in the month of March in the year of 2021, it has been an absolute blast lately. It won’t stay this way for long; it might not be like this next week. But I can’t stop scrolling right now.
The reason? Vaccine FOMO. After a year of pain and isolation and stress and loss, there is clear reason to believe dawn is coming, that it’s about to get better, that we might actually have our lives back, and soon. Covid-19 cases keep dropping, vaccines are rolling out and are about to come flooding out, the sun is shining, they’re playing baseball in Florida, and the president hasn’t said something that made me want to hit myself in the face with a polo mallet since January 20. Things are looking up.
And you can see it. You can see it right there on social media. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it: People are getting their vaccines. The selfies — often staged at actual selfie stations at vaccination spots, which sounds like something you should make fun of but is clearly a societal good — are everywhere now, with rolled-up sleeves and surgical masks and a smile so huge you can see it under a face shield. The vaccine selfie is the rare selfie that isn’t about vanity: It is about survival. It is about announcing to the world that the pandemic that has upended every aspect of human life on this planet did not take you down. You made it. We have a long way to go to eradicate Covid-19, and we must continue to be vigilant about limiting its spread. But for the vaccinated, in a personal sense, the pandemic is now over. You did it. You won.
It’s a very exciting thing! But we all know what happens when you see someone doing something exciting on social media: You can’t help but think, wait, why am I not doing that exciting thing? Social media allows us to be temporary tourists in other people’s lives, but that’s not nearly as satisfying as being real tourists. Social media is, at its core, advertising, and advertising exists to make us feel like we are doing something wrong by not doing the thing the advertisement is trying to persuade us to do. The beauty of the vaccination selfie is that, for the first time, the advertisement is something healthy, valuable and important… and, even better, completely attainable. The vaccine selfie makes you feel bad for not getting a vaccine. Which is fantastic. Because we really need everybody to get a vaccine.
Eventually this is going to be a moot point. With the ramp-up of vaccine production and distribution, anybody who wants a vaccine is going to get one, perhaps as early as this month or next. But right now, when some parts of the country are having smooth vaccine rollouts and some aren’t, it’s leading to one of the worst cases of FOMO I’ve seen. Every time someone posts one of their vaccine selfies, the comments are almost always some variation on “Good for you!” and “So happy for you!” As we all know, these two phrases are used exclusively when the person saying them wishes they were doing what the person posting the picture was doing. (The passive-aggressive, meaner version of these responses is: “Must be nice!”) Every person who hasn’t been vaccinated yet, when they see someone their age who has, can’t help but wonder, Hey, how did they get one when I can’t? They don’t say that, of course; that’s why they say “good for you!” But that’s what they’re thinking. Every time. Watching this tension play out over social media, I will confess, is absolutely riveting.
Again: This will all be over soon. I haven’t been vaccinated, but I fully expect to be within the next 45 to 60 days. (If I lived in North Carolina, as a former smoker, I could get vaccinated in a couple of weeks. More FOMO!) This is a temporary condition. But I’m watching friends my age get their shots, and next thing you know I’m going to see them doing things like eating at indoor restaurants and hosting dinner parties with other vaccinated people, and they’ve made it, they’ve moved on, and I’m still stuck here getting nervous in the grocery store checkout line. FOMO is real. But it has never been realer than it is right now.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.