If you spot TikTokers flailing their arms in the parking lots of vaccination centres, you would probably think they’re onto some new workout trend or dance routine. What if I told you that they’re trying to hack their way through one of the most common vaccine-related symptoms instead? Introducing ‘windmilling’, a post-vaccine TikTok trend that involves channelling your inner Michael Phelps before heading home with your vaccination card.
Windmilling refers to the circular rotation of your arms in a manner suggestive of the rotating sails or vanes of a windmill. On TikTok, the movement is guaranteed to help prevent or alleviate arm soreness, one of the most common symptoms of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Fully vaxxed, you know what that means,” reads the title of a TikTok video as the user proceeds to windmill her arms aggressively. With ‘Too Player’ by Vinny West playing in the background, TikTokers are often seen recording themselves in the bathrooms and parking lots of hospitals and vaccination centres—all because “TikTok said so.”
According to a bunch of medical experts interviewed by The Guardian, the only thing windmilling your arms in public will alleviate is your dignity.
“It’s harmless, looks very silly and won’t do anything,” said Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. In the interview, Kampmann explained how arm soreness is not an immediate symptom of the vaccine, nor does everyone get it either. Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and an honorary consultant at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, agreed to these claims. “I doubt it is harmful—or helpful beyond any placebo effect, which could be substantial,” he said.
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said that they were “unable to rule anything out” in terms of whether the movement might help reduce post-jab soreness, but they were “certainly not aware of it being helpful.” Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, on the other hand, said there was not sufficient scientific evidence for them to be able to comment in the first place. Professor Saad Shakir, director of the Drug Safety Research Unit, additionally questioned why TikTok users “didn’t just take a paracetamol if their arms hurt.” He also added on to the potential of windmilling being done in randomised, controlled trials instead of all at once.
Speaking about “controlled trials,” Doctor Abisola Olulade, a San Diego-based physician, actually recommends windmilling—but not the way TikTok suggests. “When you get a vaccine your immune system creates a reaction in your body, and it causes inflammation at the site of the vaccination,” she explained in an interview with Refinery29. “That is what leads to the soreness and the pain.” According to the doctor, moving your arm around essentially allows blood to flow freely to that area—which in turn encourages those inflammatory molecules to move away from the injection site. “It helps to prevent the soreness from being concentrated in that one area,” she added.
The doctor, however, warns against aggressive movements of the freshly-vaccinated arm altogether. This is because aggressive jerks could cause hypertension if done repeatedly throughout the day. Then there is the entire possibility of smacking your arm against something—for which you would need another hack to alleviate the soreness.
According to Athletico Physical Therapy, a few stretches and exercises can help alleviate arm soreness following your COVID-19 jab. The list includes seated towel slides, shoulder posterior and circle pendulum stretches as well as flexion wall slides. These exercises are often recommended in sets of three spanning 30 seconds at the most. It is also essential to exercise within your own limits and contact your healthcare provider if the side effect lingers for more than a few days.
A few pre-vaccine tips to keep in mind in relation to arm soreness include getting the jab on your non-dominant arm, avoiding muscle tension during the injection and applying ice or a warm compress after. Timing your vaccine appointment also buys you a timeframe to recover before returning back to work without putting additional stress on your arm.
Be it for the placebo effect or vaccine clout, TikTok’s obsession with windmilling may just be a relatively harmless one, compared to the increasing list of bizzare COVID-19 hacks. According to some medical experts, windmilling might have an unexpected positive outcome. “If it raises awareness of the jab and makes it seem like a joyful, playful thing, then that’s a very good outcome to the dance,” said Azeem Majeed, head of the Department of Primary Care & Public Health at Imperial College London. “Let people wave their arms if it makes anyone feel better,” Kampmann added in the interview with The Guardian.
With the minimum age for vaccinations reducing as we speak, it is only a matter of days before more vaccine trends start popping up on the gen Z-dominant platform. So brace yourself for more VaccineTok videos and remember to do your due research—because some might not be worth the shot.
Social media is a great advertising tool. It hits us up with new trends and challenges—in turn triggering our ‘fear of missing out’ to persuade us to jump on the bandwagon. Social media’s latest trend involves posting ‘vaxxies’ or ‘vaccination selfies’ in hopes of curbing anti-vaxxer misinformation while encouraging those on the fence about getting vaccinated.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the pioneers of the trend as she filmed her vaccination, broadcasting it on Instagram Live and asking followers to send in questions. “Just like wearing a mask, I would never advise you to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself,” she wrote. Last week, Dolly Parton shared a picture of herself getting the vaccination she helped fund. Captioned “Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine,” the 75-year-old country superstar kick-started a cold-shoulder trend, encouraging many to dress strategically for their jab.
With vaccination sites like Javits Center setting up dedicated booths for post-vaccine selfies, it seems like the trend has finally come full-circle. “People being vaccinated are allowed to take selfies of themselves,” clarified a FEMA press person at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College to Curbed, stating the need to seek permission before posting only if a health-care worker was in the frame. At other city-run vaccination sites in New York, staffers hand out equivalents of the “I voted” stickers which read: “I got vaccinated at Citi Field.”
Decked in face masks, shields and rolled-up sleeves, vaxxies are backed by one strong message: vaccines are worth the shot! With anti-vaxxer misinformation rampant on the internet, some users post these selfies with the aim of convincing more anti-vaxxers to ‘change sides’. Others share the moment to signal the dawn of normalcy after a long, hard year with COVID-19.
According to the latest survey by Pew Research Center, 69 per cent of the US public intends to get vaccinated or already has. These numbers are up significantly from 60 per cent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November 2020. With an estimated vaccination level of 50 to 80 per cent of the population to reach the herd immunity threshold, vaccination selfies are believed to work towards a greater societal good.
However, this concept has its fair share of criticisms and downsides. For example, the practice of posting vaccine selfies is considered to be ‘bad form’, given both the number of people who have died from COVID-19 and the fact that the distribution of the vaccine is wildly unequal. Including vaccination cards in these selfies also exposes the user to various scams and identity theft. Scammers can figure out most digits of your social security number with key information like date and place of birth featured on the card. They can open new accounts, claim tax refunds and engage in other identity theft with the information.
Vaxxies are further said to provoke frustration and major FOMO, which can become problematic. Comments along the lines of ‘Good for you!’ and ‘So happy for you!’ are common variants of vaccine FOMO as followers who haven’t been vaccinated yet envy those of their age who have. This builds a highly-debated social media tension, in turn encouraging vaccine vultures who stalk vaccination sites for leftover doses to jump on the trend themselves.
Despite vaccine selfies’ ‘narcissistic’ status, photography of inoculations has had a long history of positive public-health messaging. In 1956, Elvis Presley was photographed receiving the polio vaccine—renewing public enthusiasm especially among teenagers who were at the highest risk yet reluctant to get the shot. CDC further believes it to be a declaration of hope—listing “making your decision to get vaccinated visible and celebrating it” as one of the six ways to help build vaccine confidence.
And as Yoo Jung Kim, MD sums up the trend for Psychology Today: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the thousands of vaccination photos amplifies the same basic message: We’re on the front lines, we’re getting the novel vaccination to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our patients—will you?”