Written by Michael W. Miller, DVM

I was mad. Yet another veterinary colleague’s post-COVID vaccine selfie came across my feed. My envy was transforming into frustrated anger as I continued to wait for my opportunity to get this vaccine that I desperately wanted. Why was this person getting their second vaccine when I couldn’t even get a date scheduled for my first one? Am I not as essential as they are? What about my health – do I matter? How about my grandma?

Apparently, I was not the only one feeling this way.

I posted a poll on my Harry Potter Vet Instagram story asking if people thought COVID vaccine selfies were helpful or harmful. In my unscientific experiment (which happened to get more responses than any poll I had ever posted before), 81% picked ‘helpful’ and 19% chose ‘harmful’.
The poll was just the tip of the iceberg, though. Suddenly my DMs were blowing up with messages from other veterinary professionals – from students to seasoned doctors – who wanted to share their perspectives. These confessions described a complexity of emotions and thoughts, many of which quite accurately explained the inner struggle I was having.

Some of the messages I received validated my frustration:

“I find them hopeful but also frustrating because we have NO IDEA when we can start getting them here.”
“I’m happy they got theirs and don’t begrudge them [but] it’s frustrating when different states [and countries] prioritize different people.”
“A lot of us also feel like we both really want to be vaccinated AND know there are likely folks who need it more than us. It’s a weird tension.”
“I’ve been envious of seeing students getting vaccinated knowing our staff has way more contact with the public. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way.”
“It also can trigger those that have lost loved ones to COVID… I lost my grandma in November to COVID… so I recognize that drives a lot of my emotional response to the issue.”
“I think it’s good for us to share information about the vaccine, but it just seems like posting it feels weirdly for clout.”
“That’s the reason I didn’t post mine.”

On the flip side, I also received messages explaining valid points about how sharing has an upside of “combatting vaccine fear” and “may make it seem less scary for people on the fence about getting it.”

One person went on to explain, “My brother-in-law was very scared about side effects and is a firefighter so in posting I got to have a good conversation about it, so he got his.”

Someone else shared, “I think for the most part, it’s positive to see the posts – especially as respected professionals. It’s good to show we support the vaccine.”

Another colleague agreed saying, “I appreciate the vet community sharing…that we are valued members of the medical community.”

In the end, this is obviously an emotional, complex topic and we are, after all, humans – emotional, complex beings facing an upside down world.

A vet student messaged me with appreciation for giving him another perspective. He admitted, “I was one of those people that wanted to show my ‘on the fencers’ that it is okay and nothing will happen and when the time comes they should get it too. I didn’t even think about this unintended audience. It’s very important to think about the whole impact!”
Summing it up nicely, a Vetstagram colleague said, “It’s really a hard place to be in, and I think if we recognize and acknowledge it when posting, it’s better and values those that are not yet able to or that struggle with the decision.”

That is my point in sharing this.

My ultimate takeaway from this poll initiated by my anger has nothing to do about the politics or science of the vaccine, but in the difference of how individuals perceive these photos. Perception matters. We need to remember this with our vet med media and communications – how often are we checking to see if our audience has the expected reaction to what we are presenting to them? Are our clients hearing something that we did not mean to say? Or more importantly, are they feeling something we did not intend for them to feel? We want to make sure everyone feels valued, but could we be unintentionally telling them that they do not matter?

Transitioning to curbside service was a good example of this. My hospital went curbside early on because people I respected recommended that adjustment as a way of protecting myself, my team, and my clients. I made this new protocol to keep everyone safe and assumed the clients would love me for making this decision. It was in their best interest… right?

The first day we made this switch, we had an irate client. First day. First hour, actually.
In my haste, I did not see the situation from the client’s point of view. We made a lot of communication mistakes in those early days of COVID because we made assumptions that the changes would be appreciated since they were done to keep everyone safe. Oops. What we missed doing was thinking about the different perspectives (staff, pets, and clients) and then communicating in a way that addressed those different perspectives.

Back to the COVID vaccine photos… I think the ultimate answer is complicated, like so many things in the world right now. After much reflection, I decided to share my post-vaccination photo along with my story of how stressed and angry I had been when I saw others posting their selfies while I was waiting. I hope that by telling my whole story, others who are facing similar conflicting emotions within themselves can feel less alone. After a year of an isolating pandemic, we all need to feel less alone. We need to feel like our perspective matters. Storytelling leads to connection and we all need connection more than ever. By telling my story and considering the perspective of others, I hope that someone feels just a bit less alone.

A part of storytelling that you may not realize is that it also allows the storyteller not to feel alone. I need connection too and wondering if I was alone in my feelings about the selfies was making my anger worse. I finally felt seen when one recent graduate responded and accurately explained the exact struggle going on in my brain: “Do their pictures bother me a little? Yes. Is it jealousy? YES. But am I glad as heck they got the vaccine to help stop this pandemic? HECK YEAH! Their intentions are to speak positively about the vaccine and to encourage others to get it too. I get that. Am I still bitter? A little… It does, however, encourage me to grow in maturity and wait my turn … When people post about it, I don’t smile. I get annoyed for the most part. I’m working on that.”

To any veterinary colleagues out there feeling frustrated while still waiting for their shot: I see you. I feel you. I was you. Let’s all continue to share our stories and appreciate that we each may have a different perspective. My hope is that, when you do get vaccinated, you will also feel the immense happiness and overwhelming relief that I experienced and in the meantime you know that, no matter what you are feeling, someone else is feeling it too. YOU ARE NOT ALONE – YOU MATTER.

About the Author
Dr. Michael W. Miller is the co-owner of a four-location small animal practice and sees patients at Lakewood Animal Hospital in Morris, Illinois. In addition to dogs and cats, he has a special interest in reptiles which led him to start a wildlife rescue at his practice for hit-by-car turtles. He started his own blog called Harry Potter Vet, where he uses comparisons to the wizarding world to help veterinary professionals and himself discover the magic in veterinary medicine. Outside of vet med, he also is discovering the magic of parenthood as he and his wife raise their two young sons.