A patient displays a sticker proclaiming her recent Covid-19 vaccination in Lake Jackson, Texas, March 28. Think twice before announcing your vaccine status to friends and family and on social media platforms.
CNN  — 

I happily posted my “I got my Covid-19 vaccine” sticker selfie on social media after my shot, excited to perform the civic duty to protect my family and community and to normalize the process for those watching more warily.

“How did you qualify?” someone boldly asked in the comments, unleashing what would turn into the first of a series of murky touch points where sharing my vaccine status opened me up to scrutiny and possible judgment.

Whose business was it if I had a comorbidity or special circumstances that qualified me to obtain the vaccine? What responsibility did I have to let others know I didn’t cut the line without sharing personal details?

I worried about who to tell at work, if anyone, and what the implications might be. Would I be pressured to come into the office before I felt comfortable doing so? Would I be tapped to work on higher-risk projects or tasks instead of colleagues who weren’t vaccinated or hadn’t shared their status?

The more people I talked to, the more I realized that sharing my vaccine status is a thornier issue than I had imagined. What else had I missed in my rush to share my status? Maybe I shouldn’t have shared so quickly.

Social pressures are real

We know that posting images of your vaccine card, which lists your name, the type or lot of vaccine you received, and, in some cases, medical details, is a no-no. But what about telling your friends, extended family or employer, or sharing on social media that you are vaccinated?

Sharing your vaccine status with friends and family and on social media can mean an outpouring of support – and it also can mean unwanted scrutiny, questions or even backlash. That’s what I experienced.

There are also concerns around social life. Sharing your status could mean unwanted social pressures to hang out when you don’t feel comfortable returning to life before Covid-19. Some who qualified to get the vaccine earlier than others worry about jealously or judgment from friends or acquaintances if they disclose their status.

“We debated over whether to post vaccine selfies, because our comorbidities allowed us to get it sooner than some friends who are also anxious to get it. Since everybody couldn’t get it at once, I felt simultaneous relief and guilt, because I knew so many others were waiting,” said Courtney Finnerty, a stay-at-home parent in Rochester, New York.

Finnerty did end up sharing her vaccine status in order to help normalize the process for others.

Work and the decision to disclose

While the Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees from having their employers share their vaccine status with others, “your employer may be entitled to information about your vaccine status,” said Margaret Riley, a professor at the University of Virginia who teaches food and drug law, health law, bioethics and public health law. That’s true particularly if being unvaccinated poses a particular threat to others – examples include restaurant workers, teachers instructing students in person, and health care workers at medical facilities.

Some worry their employers may force them back to the office before they feel safe returning if they share their vaccine status.

“I’ll admit to being pretty anxious that it means my job will make me come back to the office sooner,” said one friend who works in publishing in New York City and who was afraid to be named due to potential backlash from the employer, who has not been particularly supportive of employees during the pandemic.

Others worry that sharing their vaccine status can get politicized and cost them business.

“It’s tricky. Speaking from a monetary and business owner perspective, being vaccinated means I don’t need to pass on the cost of my continual Covid-19 testing to my clients,” said Heather Gold Casto, a chef and events caterer working in New York’s Hudson Valley who was recently vaccinated and is required to undergo regular Covid-19 testing.

“But also, it could keep potential clients from booking me based on a difference of opinion on the vaccine,” she said. “It’s sort of in line with not talking politics. I’d like to book clients based on my abilities, not my beliefs. More specifically, I don’t want to be passed over because of my beliefs.”

“Workplaces and businesses will likely treat people who have not been vaccinated, and people who decline to reveal whether they have been vaccinated, in the same way – telling them that they can’t engage in certain activities,” said Kayte Spector-Bagdady, a lawyer and bioethicist who works as the associate director at the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine and as assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School. That could include things like dining in restaurants, or attending movies or shows in theaters or other cultural events at indoor venues.

What if you’re required to reveal your status?

“Must you share your vaccine status with anyone? That all would depend on the context of the situation,” Riley said.

Some employers may ask for your status to protect other employees or the patients, students or customers who want or need to visit them.

What if you refuse to reveal your status?

“Theoretically, you can always decline to reveal that you’ve been vaccinated, but it could come at a high cost such as not being able to go to the doctor’s office, work in person, or travel,” Spector-Bagdady said.

“Since there are no official vaccine passports, there is no real way they could be assured that anyone is telling the truth,” Riley said.

We’ve been here before

Recent refrains of “sharing your status” conjures up similar phrasing around another virus that’s been around for a few decades longer and has great stigma attached to it – HIV/AIDS.

It remains a highly charged subject whether someone who is HIV-positive feels comfortable in any number of circles or scenarios disclosing their status. It also rings true more recently for those who might not be HIV-positive and are taking PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, to prevent contracting the virus, or those who have an undetectable and untransmissible viral load (who are often called U=U).

“I think the reason there is a backlash against sharing vaccine status is similar to that of PrEP and U=U over the past 10 years,” said Damon Jacobs, a marriage and family therapist based in New York City who has worked with the LGBTQ and HIV-AIDS community.

“We are taught in this culture to react to perceptions of scarcity with suspicion and attack,” Jacobs said. “Instead of practicing the idea of ‘compersion’, or joy in someone else’s joy, we are conditioned to respond to joy and success with, ‘You shouldn’t feel good when I don’t feel good.’ This sets up a nasty cycle of blame-attack-separation, which ultimately fuels our epidemic of alienation and loneliness.”

A positive way to consider whether to share or not, Jacobs said, is to lean into the moment and consider sharing your status as a way to open yourself up and create a more inclusive and loving environment that helps others to feel safe to do the same.

The decision is personal

It may help to first acknowledge that whatever you decide in terms of sharing your vaccine status, it’s likely a temporary scenario. Americans age 16 or older became eligible for the vaccine as of April 19. In a few months, hopefully many more people will be vaccinated.

Until the general population of adults catches up, many who had a head start may find themselves in this vaccine purgatory, where specific eligibility allowed some to gain access to vaccines for reasons that aren’t always publicly clear. That means two people in the same age bracket or location may not have qualified at the same time. This can leave those who got vaccinated before the vast majority feeling a paradox of relief and gratitude but also guilt and worry.

“Whether or not you have been vaccinated is your own private medical information,” Spector-Bagdady said. “Places like hospitals or your doctor generally cannot share that information without your written permission. But there will likely be increasing circumstances where you might want to share your vaccine status. A small gathering of friends, for instance, might want to share vaccine statuses to assuage any anxieties people might have.”

Reality check

The truth is, Covid-19 doesn’t magically go away when you get vaccinated and so we should not be treating this milestone as the be-all and end-all, both in how we presume others might be eligible to access the vaccine and in how they decide to share the news.

“The vaccine has been touted as our ticket back to a ‘normal’ society. Many people, however, are anxious about returning to a ‘normal’ society, probably because that idea simply is not possible,” said Alexandra Lo Re, a clinical social worker based in Oyster Bay, New York. “We will never return to a world where Covid-19 does not exist.”

Sharing your vaccine status is more loaded than you might have considered, but the truth is, we’re all figuring this out on the fly. There is no playbook, there is no holy grail. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how you should or shouldn’t share your vaccine status.

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You know your circumstances better than anyone else and are better suited to decide what you feel comfortable sharing with whom and when. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in navigating this new terrain filled with questions and uncertainty.

Plus, if you’ve gotten the vaccine, you’ve already made the most important decision.

Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.