Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrities were as active as government and health officials in spreading the word about our health, using social media to encourage people to wash hands, wear masks and social distance.
The "vaccine selfie," as it has come to be called, is the latest iteration of this trend, said Amy Bleakley, professor of communication at the University of Delaware.
Public figures like political leaders and celebrities, as well as our friends and neighbors, have been posting pictures of themselves getting their COVID-19 vaccine.
"When audiences view others, especially those they may admire, modeling healthy behavior, it can be an effective way to encourage others to engage in that behavior as well," Bleakley said. "And it helps to cultivate norms around doing so."
From a public health perspective, vaccine selfies can serve an important purpose, she said. Positive responses in social media comments reinforce good behavior; seeing others one admires or respects, whether it be Joe Biden or Dolly Parton or grandma, help to create normative expectations to get vaccinated.
For communities of color, seeing well-respected leaders and spokespeople getting their shots might just be what some need to help overcome deep mistrust and skepticism.
Can these vaccine selfies cause a backlash? Maybe.
"Not everyone who wants the vaccine may be eligible at this point in time and perceive the vaccine selfie as people flaunting their good fortune," Bleakley said, "Seeing so many others experience the post-vaccine relief and joy may just be too painful and ultimately cause resentment."
But Bleakley said that, ultimately, the "vaccine selfie" is social media at its best, and the upside of being able to show, first hand, others’ experiences and pride about being vaccinated is a way to rapidly create positive norms about this critical behavior of getting vaccinated.
"Everything about social media lends itself to being used in this manner as a force for good," Bleakley said.