Waters, 41, says that in the absence of a federal government vaccination campaign, “people are taking it in to their own hands” to spread the word: I got the vaccine, I’m OK, and you should, too.
Abidin agrees that the selfies help the argument that vaccines are safe and can help resolve information vacuums or misinformation around the process.
Still, she says it’s naive to think that social posts, however viral we may think they are, necessarily reach people who commonly fall between the cracks, such as migrants, the elderly and other minority groups.
Lillian Kline, chief executive of impact investment firm Impact Outfit, agrees the overwhelmingly positive reaction she received to her selfie may be, at least partly, evidence of “my own echo chamber”.
“If I had any anti-vaxx friends they probably wouldn’t [publicly] say I’m an idiot [for getting vaccinated],” she says.
Kline says she is conscious vaccines are a “threshold” issue that could test some personal relationships but this made her even more motivated to share her experience.
“This is an issue people want to be on the record for. People I haven’t spoken to in a long time have engaged, or made comments [on my post],” she says, adding that commenting on or posting vaxxies was a way of “self validating” on the issue.
Waters says a vaxxie definitely feels different to other modes of online activism. “It’s different to the black squares [associated with Black Lives Matter in 2020] when people asked, ‘Are you actually doing anything positive?’ You are documenting the action you have taken [by getting a vaccine] – it’s not purely performative. I guess it would be purely performative if you stood at the vaccine hub and didn’t get [the shot].”
However, not everyone has jumped at the opportunity to share their vaxxie. Celebrity chef Adam Liaw was initially hesitant over concerns he might appear like he was bragging about getting the jab. But then his work as an ambassador for charity UNICEF, which campaigns against vaccine hesitancy, changed his mind. “There’s this kind of anti-vaxx ‘noise’ that is so loud and vocal that it has to be countered with normalising the process of getting the vaccine,” he says.
Liaw, who has 244,000 Instagram followers, accepts his vaxxie may attract some negative comments but he’s happy to leave them up “to have their concerns addressed and not ignored. It’s an education process.”
Aside from the trolling risk, the only other potential harm of vaxxies raised by some experts is how they may evolve as more younger people gain access to a vaccine. Some articles in foreign publications have focused on taking the “perfect” vaxxie, including which clothes to wear (more like Kate Middleton, less like the shirt-sleeved politicians).
Abidin says that although selfies are often derided as being shallow, in this case they are helping to dilute any embarrassment people might feel about publicising what is usually private.
“The more we talk about these things, the easier it is to share knowledge but also realise we are going through the same thing,” she says. “[Vaxxies] can be productive and powerful because people usually brush them aside … but they are doing important work and driving the conversation.”
Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.
Discussion about this post