“I’m in a mixed marriage,” tweeted David Thomas, 51. “I got Pfizer, and my wife is getting the Moderna vaccine today. How will this affect our kids?”
Mr. Thomas, who works in printing and lives in Plymouth, Mich., was clearly joking. “Just pretending like we care which vaccine we got makes it fun,” he said. “It’s like a game to say, ‘I’m on Team Pfizer, or I’m on Team Moderna.’”
But, suffused with relief after a year of isolation and loss, many people are getting quite attached to the companies that made their shots, some even buying T-shirts that broadcast the tribe they’ve “joined” (call it pharmcore).
All three Covid-19 vaccines available in America are remarkably effective. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it, “The best Covid-19 vaccine is the first one that is available to you.” Most people aren’t even in a position to choose which one they get. “It’s like the sorting hat in ‘Harry Potter,’” said Mr. Thomas.
Still, a friendly rivalry has taken hold across America with vaccinated people professing loyalty to the brand they happened to have received.
Selfies with vaccine cards now come with the caption #TeamPfizer or #TeamModerna. TikTokers making fun of the brands they didn’t receive are going viral. And some people joining in the playful rivalry are questioning their privilege, asking themselves why they care and how their posturing might look to others in the world who have no vaccine at all.
When Beth Wilensky, 48, a law professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, was given a last-minute vaccine slot at a nearby Walmart last month, she didn’t care which vaccine she received. “The numbers were going up here,” she said. “I was thrilled to get any of them.”
A few weeks later the C.D.C. announced it would pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the one she received. Rather than feel fear, however, Ms. Wilensky felt defiant. “As someone who got the J. & J., I want to shout to rooftops how happy I am,” she tweeted. “Maybe I should start a J. & J. fan club to show some love to this unfairly maligned vaccine?”
She believes her loyalty comes from deep gratitude for relief from worry. “I got the shot, and two weeks later I felt very confident I wasn’t going to get severely ill,” she said.
Now there is also loyalty. “There are so few people who got J. & J. compared to the other vaccines, that there is a little bit of a, ‘we are small but mighty’ thing,” she said.
When people announce they’ve received a Covid-19 vaccination others usually respond by asking which one. Ms. Wilensky has a theory about why people even bother to ask. “Vaccine clinics are these amazing sites where people feel relief after a year of anxiety and devastation,” she said. “People are looking for a way to keep talking about such a positive thing.”
Linda Hirshman, whose book “Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution” explores the AIDS pandemic, is fully on team Pfizer. “I am a complete fan girl of science. As to the Pfizer brand, I love them,” she said. “It’s funny. I am not fussy about which pneumonia vaccine I get.”
Unlike the flu shot which seems to just appear at the end of the summer, many in isolation have been following the every move of these pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic, eagerly awaiting every trial result, every announcement, to see if they could pull off the scientific marvel that would bring us life back to something like normal. “It was the race for the cure,” Ms. Hirshman said. “We will now cheer for whoever got it done for us.”
“What do people do when they get a miracle?” she added. “It’s a little weird to go to the temple and thank God for the mRNA vaccine, so they thank Pfizer or Moderna instead.”
- On April 13, 2021, U.S. health agencies called for an immediate pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within one to three weeks of vaccination.
- All 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico temporarily halted or recommended providers pause the use of the vaccine. The U.S. military, federally run vaccination sites and a host of private companies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Publix, also paused the injections.
- Fewer than one in a million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are now under investigation. If there is indeed a risk of blood clots from the vaccine — which has yet to be determined — that risk is extremely low. The risk of getting Covid-19 in the United States is far higher.
- The pause could complicate the nation’s vaccination efforts at a time when many states are confronting a surge in new cases and seeking to address vaccine hesitancy.
- Johnson & Johnson had also decided to delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe amid concerns over rare blood clots, but it later decided to resume its campaign after the European Union’s drug regulator said a warning label should be added. South Africa, devastated by a more contagious virus variant that emerged there, suspended use of the vaccine, and Australia announced it would not purchase any doses.
Sam Lee from San Diego and Luke Brewer from Lansing, Mich., opened a shop on Etsy named ViralMerchCo three weeks ago, mostly to sell T-shirts and sweatshirts that advertise a vaccine brand. The items say phrases like “Pfizer alumni” and come in a range of colors.
“We saw ‘vaccinated’ posts all over social media. Many of the people posting also posted which vaccine they received, and it seemed like people took a lot of pride in this,” Mr. Lee said. “We gave the people what they were looking for.” They said they’ve almost a hundred items, and other Etsy shops provide similar apparel.
Ellyn Marsh, a Broadway actress, knew she struck a chord when she posted a video on TikTok where she was pretending to dance in a club and bragging over the music about which vaccine she got. “It got a million and a half views really quickly,” she said. “I was like OK, ‘This is something people want to talk about.’”
She’s continued the parodies. A clip she posted last week showed Pfizer and Moderna as “frenemies,” gossiping on the phone about Johnson & Johnson’s pause. “I’m just delivering,” announced Pfizer, looking glamorous while sipping champagne.
Ms. Marsh made these videos after observing the behavior of people around her. “People were talking on social media about their symptoms, their first dose, the second dose, which vaccine they got,” she said. “I just found it all really funny.” She also noticed she felt loyalty to her vaccine. “I did get Pfizer,” she said. “I am happy, I am lucky, I am grateful.”
TikTok users as far away as Germany, Brazil, Croatia, and Portugal left comments.
The gist of them: you should feel lucky you got any vaccine. “I was Google translating some of them, and they were such an eye opener for me,” she said. “In other countries they were crossing a finger for any vaccine, and here we are comparing our vaccines and our symptoms. It’s like ‘OK, we need to check our privilege.’”
Still, turning something that is ultimately a medical procedure involving needles into a trendy bragging right might serve a higher purpose. “I think it helps counter the anti-vax people,” Mr. Thomas said. “It gets people to do something by making it cool, fun, and visible.”
“I think my wife and I should get different shirts that say Pfizer and Moderna,” he added. “It will get the word out that, ‘Hey, we got vaccines, and they are all good.”