In the past three months, Americans have become collectively obsessed with shots of shots. Photos featuring the humble deltoid—that meaty muscle that swaddles the upper arm, newly famous as the injection site for all three currently cleared COVID-19 vaccines—have been flooding Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Tinder. After a year of misery and chaos, they’re digital proof of the relief and elation that comes with boosted immunity; they’re a rallying cry for others, including those who might be wary, to join in. Individual vaccinations, normally an intimate affair, have become a public spectacle.
Yet for every immunization that sparks public joy, there’s perhaps another that blips silently by, shaded with guilt, frustration, or fear. Many of the recipients of these early jabs have chosen to hide them from even close friends and family—some of the people who stand to benefit the most from the protection that immunization affords.
I spoke with more than a dozen of these covert vaccinees last week; all asked to remain anonymous. (The Atlantic agreed to these requests because they involved personal health information.) The reasons behind the vaccinees’ reticence ran the gamut: Some worried that they would be accused of line hopping; others were wary of exposing the criteria that had qualified them. A weatherman in Florida wanted to avoid being prematurely called back to the office, because he’d miss out on quality time with his family. But they were united by what we might call shot self-consciousness—the worry about how their shots will be perceived by others.