The irresistible phenomenon of vaccine teams

How vaccine loyalty became a thing

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Prior to this week, I had zero opinions about the company Pfizer.

I knew, of course, the basics: that it is a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, and that it had partnered with the German firm BioNTech to make the first approved COVID-19 vaccine available in the United States. I even knew that Pfizer's crowning achievement up to this point had been the patenting of Viagra (knowledge I'd acquired from the fact that Spike Lee is making a musical about it).

What I didn't know, though, was that getting my first shot on Tuesday would transform me into a devoted member of Team Pfizer — or as I prefer to call us, the Pfizer Pflock.

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It's human nature to shape our personal identities around the groups we consider ourselves to be a part of. "Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders," wrote the early social theorist William G. Sumner. At its most dangerous, this impulse to sort ourselves into competing groups can result in ethnocentrism and nationalism; at its dumbest, though, it leads to camps of people on the internet arguing over the color of a viral dress, and starting TikTok wars between people who use green alien skins in Grand Theft Auto and people who use purple alien skins.

I might've laughed once, except this week, with the same unknowable omniscience of a fictional wizard hat, the New York State vaccine website sorted me into House Pfizer. Now everyone who's gotten a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shot is my sworn enemy.

Admittedly, I'm perhaps a little predisposed to tying my identity to the name of a pharmaceutical company, since I spent four years of college living in a tight-knit dorm named after Merck. It's a position I once again find myself uncomfortable with, since, lest we forget, big pharma is, on the whole, comically evil.

But the competitiveness between the different vaccinated groups is definitely a thing. All it takes is a visit to Etsy to see that people are making (and buying!) shirts and coffee mugs and hand-painted needlepoint canvases to announce to the world which vaccine "team" they're on. A quick search on Twitter, and you can also find dozens of tweets comparing the different vaccines to Houses of Westeros and Hogwarts and even Pokémon Go teams — our pre-existing pop culture identities, transformed for a new era.

It's all a pretty good testament to the fact that people love to find ways to compete with one another since, prior to getting a shot, most people likely didn't care which vaccine they were getting. Until recently, it was fairly difficult to "shop" for a preferred vaccine brand at all, if you had one. You would simply book an appointment, and be grateful for whatever you got.

I can't emphasize enough that this is still the right way to think about getting the vaccine; the best COVID-19 shot will always be the first one that is available to you. The CDC will tell you that, and I will tell you that. All three of the vaccines approved in the United States at this point — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — are safe, effective, and absolutely worth getting immediately. (Meanwhile, a new vaccine is being tested in the U.S. Army, which could mean an even more exclusive "team" might be forming — take that, Navy!!!). In fact, it's actually more fun to be sorted into a vaccine group by chance, and unexpectedly find yourself with allies and enemies of the most arbitrary sort.

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My embarrassing, newfound fidelity to a pharmaceutical company means I'm honor-bound to defend Team Pfizer, though. I felt a sense of allegiance almost immediately after getting my first shot when my little group of fellow vaxxers celebrated in the office with whoops of excitement. Now, when friends, family, and colleagues tell me they also got Pfizer, I have the same surge of camaraderie — and turn my nose up at the 'Derna Bros and smug "one-and-done" Johnson & Johnson acolytes.

All of this is, ultimately, very silly. At the end of the day, regardless of if you've received the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson, we're all working toward the greater good of reaching herd immunity.

That said: Team Pfizer, we ride at dawn.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.