Social Media’s Key Role in Vaccine Uptake

By Hayley Coleby.

As the coronavirus crisis continued and the UK Government’s historic vaccination programme took shape, concerns were raised around the vaccine uptake among younger generations.

With the significant influence of social media over millennials, platforms such as, Snapchat, Reddit, TikTok and YouTube showed a united front by building confidence in the vaccine, tackling misinformation and encouraging all adults over the age of 18 to receive the jab.

The impact of social media on millennials 

Although young people are less at risk of severe disease from COVID-19, they have been a key group in the context of this pandemic and have a pivotal role to play in stopping the transmission.

When the Office for National Statistics published data early this year, it revealed that 13 per cent of 16–29-year-olds were unsure about being vaccinated. With social media platforms having an extensive reach amongst millennials, they have played a significant role in vaccine uptake.

The reach of platforms among Gen Z users has only grown in the last year, with social interactions limited and people locked in their homes. Take TikTok for example, Based on Statista forecasts released in September 2020, the number of TikTok users in the United Kingdom is expected to reach over 13 million individuals in 2021. This is more than twice as many users as there were in 2019. The ability to create short, unique videos has proved highly entertaining and engaging. This extensive reach has proven a powerful tool in the nations efforts to return to normality.

Transparency and limiting anti-vax content

With young people becoming disillusioned and disinterested by politicians and key policy makers, social media has allowed for transparency, through its nature of creating organic conversations.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow millennials to see the impact of world events in a more dynamic way than if they were to watch the news, and this encourages them to think about and discuss issues of importance and express their opinions.

However, with the exploitative and manipulative nature of some brands and individuals, platforms have had to ensure that content remains transparent. They have succeeded at this by introducing regulations and restrictions on sponsored coronavirus content to protect users.

Take for example Facebook, who have extended their sponsored content policy to restrict or prohibit ads promoting certain medical supplies and high-demand products related to COVID-19, as they have been associated with exploitative behaviour. In addition, social platforms have been signposting users to accurate and reliable sources of information on social distancing guidelines, in the form of gov.uk and medical advice via the NHS website.

Tackling misinformation and creating positive conversation

In order to tackle misinformation as the government ramped up its vaccine rollout, social platforms have been able to provide people with all the necessary information needed around the vaccine.

A new Online Safety Bill was passed to ensure people are not bombarded with harmful content and as part of this The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport developed a toolkit with content designed to be shared via Whatsapp and Facebook community groups, as well as Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, to tackle false information spread through private channels.

They were also supported by targeted social media posts fronted by trusted community members (faith leaders, clinicians and community leaders) including simple tips on how to critically analyse sources, spot false information and help stop its spread.

As well as playing a pivotal role in preventing the spread of misinformation the platforms have made vaccine uptake more visible through creative tools such as stickers, filters and profile frames. Snapchat users have been able to use NHS stickers, a filter and an augmented reality lens that reads: ‘I’ve had my vaccine’ for UK users to share on their accounts. Meanwhile, TikTok has joined forces with Team Halo – a group of scientists using the platform to provide the latest information on vaccines with entertaining and shareable videos.

By producing engaging tools and content, social media platforms have not only allowed users to join a collective effort, but due to the extensive reach among the key 16-29 year-old age bracket, have had a significant impact in encouraging vaccine uptake.

 Hayley Coleby is Associate Director and Head of Social at The PHA Group.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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