Love them or hate them, Gen X’ers’ vaccine selfies — or ‘vaxxies’ — may be the marketing campaign we needed

Love them or hate them, Gen X’ers’ vaccine selfies — or ‘vaxxies’ — may be the marketing campaign we needed
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If you’ve spent any time on social media this week, you’ve come across scores of selfies from Gen X’ers — sleeves rolled up to their shoulders — receiving hand-clapping emojis and other kudos for getting their AstraZeneca jabs .

As the hashtag #GenXZeneca trended on Twitter on Wednesday, Gen X’ers took their moment in the social media sun to indulge in a bit of gloating about how “fearless” they were and, in some cases, to take a few subtle pot-shots at vaccine-shoppers, while waxing nostalgic about icons of their childhood: the Sony Walkman, the Commodore 64, Big Wheels and processed cheese.

While some consider the self-promotion to be a bit rich and worry it could stoke “vaccine envy,” the explosion of vaccine selfies — or “vaxxies” — by Gen X’ers may be just the type of guerrilla marketing that gets the vaccine-hesitant among us out the door, some experts say.

“Gen X’ers may not see themselves as vaccine ambassadors ... but they are doing that kind of work,” said Maya Goldenberg, a University of Guelph professor specializing in the philosophy of science and medicine. “That may make hesitaters more open to vaccinating.”

Since several provinces announced this week that forty-somethings would be eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine, many Gen X’ers have jumped at the opportunity, resulting in a mad scramble to book appointments that some on social media have compared to the “Hunger Games.”

Ontario reported Wednesday that a record-high 136,695 vaccine doses had been administered in the province the day before. Pharmacies in other provinces reported being inundated with calls.

“We have heard from pharmacists that … the demand has been high and that pharmacies have already used up the limited supply of AZ vaccine that they received,” Margaret Wing, CEO of the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association, said in an email.

But even as the pace of vaccinations ramps up, recent polling data shows there is still a sizable minority of Canadians who are vaccine hesitant.

A national online survey of 1,600 people by Insights West released this week found that 59 per cent of respondents said they had either received the vaccine (16 per cent) or were 100 per cent certain they would get it when available (43 per cent).

Fifteen per cent, however, said they would not or were unlikely to get the jab. The 35-to-54-year-old age bracket was, in fact, the most likely to be vaccine hesitant, according to the survey (18 per cent compared to 11 per cent of 18-to-34-year-olds and 11 per cent of 55-year-olds and older).

Some observers say the surge in vaccine selfies right now may be a more effective tool at changing attitudes than top-down government messaging.

“In the context of getting a vaccine, I don’t see it as a narcissistic act, I don’t see it as bragging. I view it as a celebration of the science and a moment of joy,” said Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

“I think it is important to normalize getting vaccinated. It is important for individuals to see people like them getting vaccinated, and that can help reduce vaccine hesitancy.”

Research has shown that creative communications strategies and messages that involve stories can have more impact on an audience than technical information put out by the government, he said.

“A selfie is a nice little story about an event that happened in your life, that you’re excited about.”

There are some critics who have recommended simmering down on all the vaccine selfies as they can serve to amplify anxieties among people who may face barriers to accessing vaccines.

Earlier this year, the Boston Globe published a column headlined “Cool it with the vaccine selfies for a while.” It suggested post-vaccine selfies were prompting “more frustration than inspiration.”
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