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This year’s hottest social media trend is the vaccine selfie

The vaccine rollout is happening, slowly but surely. As more Aussies become eligible for the jab, get prepared to see a lot more selfies about the subject.  

When I was booked into getting my first dose of the COVID vaccine, I was elated. I told my parents how excited I was— this is in stark contrast to how I received the news I was getting an injection as a child, by the way, when torrential tears streamed down my face. What a strange time to be alive that being pricked in the arm by a needle was one of the most positively charged experiences of the year.

I asked the nurse if I could take a photo. She made a wavey hand gesture and said “Oh, God, of course, everybody does,” so I snapped it and shared it to Instagram.

“Getting vaccinated can represent a number of things. A triumph of science, freedom from worrying about contracting COVID, and freedom to potentially travel and resume life as normal,” explains Briony Leo, psychologist and Head of Coaching at Relish.

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“Just like we might post pictures of other celebrations like weddings and birthdays, a vaccine selfie probably represents a celebration and milestone all at once.”

But where wedding and birthday celebration posts differ from vaccine selfies is that, while most of social media is pretty self-serving, the decision to document my jab came with a higher purpose; education, cutting through misinformation, and ultimately providing a source of comfort, however small my range of influence may be.

“We know about the massive normative power of social media for raising awareness and showing the reality of an individual’s experience, whether this is mental health or fitness journeys, parenting or food hacks,” says Leo.

“Importantly, if someone has been exposed to false information about vaccines, seeing real people getting vaccinated and not being affected is a great way to push back against misinformation… Seeing people within our network engaging in this behavior is highly persuasive and can help to reassure us that the risks are quite low.”

Most people will agree that images are way more affecting than raw data on vaccine safety, too, which is why photography has a long history with public health promotion. A 21-year-old Elvis Presley was photographed as he received the polio jab in 1956, which renewed public enthusiasm for the shot.

These days, social media has intensified that feeling of perceived familiarity with celebrities. We’re given more access to their private life than ever before and that can have a significant impact on our own behaviours. But also think about any conversation you’ve had with a friend that influenced your decision-making, like buying a dress or going to that great new coffee shop. The people directly around us have influence on us, too.

“We think about the business model that Instagram uses; if we feel a personal connection to and like the person we are following, we’re more likely to purchase products they recommend because it feels like a ‘personal recommendation’. This is the same for vaccines,” says Leo.

“We’re much more likely to believe someone who we already trust and have had positive interactions with in the past—it is just human nature.”

The AstraZeneca jab is open to all adult Australians should they wish to receive it after a consultation with their GP. With more than 20 percent of Australians unsure about whether they’ll get vaccinated, according to a recent Melbourne Institute survey, go forth and share that selfie. It might make a crucial difference in someone deciding to get the shot.

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