Posting stickers that proclaim “I’m COVID-19 Vaccinated” is the latest social media trend among youth in Canada.
The COVID-19 vaccination roll-out is ramping up across the country and more shots have made their way to people’s arms.
Canada is scheduled to receive two million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week and some provinces are opening up eligibility to younger age groups.
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“People are very excited and proud once they receive the vaccine and providing, ‘I’m COVID-19 Vaccinated’ stickers after they get their shot is a great way for people to share their experience through social channels and encourage their friends and peers to get their vaccine,” Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) told Daily Hive in an email.
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The psychology behind the COVID-19 stickers
The sticker method has been used to encourage individuals to participate in tasks that are in the public interest for decades, such as the “I Voted” sticker.
Azim Shariff, Associate Professor of Psychology at UBC, said the sticker psychologically impacts both the person posting, and the person seeing the post.
For those seeing the post, the sticker conveys a social norm and increases the adoption of the vaccine, he said.
“Especially in ambiguous situations, the way that people determine what is acceptable and safe is by looking around and seeing what other people are doing,” Shariff said, adding that for the poster it can be a rewarding virtue signal.
“It allows you to display that you did something positive, and you get the reputational credit to be perceived as a good person.”
Big tech supporting COVID-19 vaccine awareness
Social media platforms like Instagram have also hopped on the bandwagon and created a new story sticker that helps people access reliable information from trusted health experts, including the WHO and CDC.
“It helps people show their support and share accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine… the sticker will connect people directly to the Information Center,” said Instagram in a blog statement.
VCH has been using social platforms like Instagram to raise awareness.
“Over the past year [we] have had success on our social media channels such as Instagram and TikTok in reaching young people (18-34) about COVID-19 prevention. These channels play a key role in our vaccination awareness campaign,” said VCH.
The role of youth adults on social media
Shariff said that although young people may not be first in line to get vaccinated, they play a critical role in spreading the word to everyone on social media.
“This is something we should be encouraging, the more people who get it, the better off everybody in the world is,” he said.
VCH told Daily Hive that they believe awareness is high among young people, and that many young people are just waiting for their turn to receive the vaccine.
“By being more active on social media channels and sharing their experience, they’ll help to further spread the word and encourage people of all ages to receive their shot,” said VCH.
But how effective is the COVID-19 stickers sway, really?
“The vaccine stickers are an example of social proof, and there’s tons of evidence to back up the effectiveness of that. Basically, the idea that you follow what other people do,” said Sam Goertz, a behavioural science researcher with a degree from the University of Alberta.
Goertz said that the effectiveness of the sticker is amplified on social media if there’s an action associated with it. This can be seen on Instagram’s virtual stickers that direct you to an information center.
The key distinction is that the sticker may not influence individuals who already feel certain about not getting vaccinated, but can help nudge those on the edge.
According to a Canadian poll from Angus Reid Institute conducted in March 2021, 12% of Canadians said that they would not get the vaccine. This 12% likely will not be swayed by stickers, but the percentage is low enough to not impact herd immunity.
On the other hand, Goertz said the “mushy middle” group could be swayed and that will help bring the vaccinated numbers up as soon as possible.
“If you can reach even a small percentage of the group on the edge to get it that much sooner, it is going to be a benefit to everybody in the long-term.”