Vaxxathon: Renewing social license through collective action & social proof 

The upcoming vaxxathon is the tonic that New Zealanders didn’t know they needed. But let’s break down why it makes sense from the perspective of some important psychological and social concepts, too.

Collective / Individual action

Although the ‘Team of 5 Million’ is a well-worn and accepted phrase, it’s fallen into disrepair in recent months. As we exited from the first phase of the pandemic, regional lockdowns and the plight of Kiwis overseas trying to return home, and the experience of those that have got back has fractured this national identity. Add to this the reported stigma of being a recovered COVID-19 patient, or an increasing number of people grappling with long covid symptoms, and we can see that the balance has tipped to a more individualised experience.
The vaccine campaign tries to strike the balance of protecting ourselves to protect our community – but the experience of getting a vaccine is individual, mostly. A televised Vaxxathon with regional and national stories and numbers is a great opportunity for the country to come together with a sense of hope to increase both our individual and collective sense of togetherness and protection in dealing with the threat of the pandemic.
And what better way to come together than breaking down the individualised, atomised experience of our social media feeds to come around the TV and share in the cheesy experience of the Vaxxathon. It’s a shared experience and reinforces the idea that we are not alone.

Information and Social Proof

We know that when the situation is uncertain; we seek information from those we trust, and who we recognise as similar to us, or who may have had similar qualms and questions, but who took the vaccine in the end.
But it’s more than just information that acts as a prompt to come forward to vaccination. When we are feeling unsure, we look at people we trust and respect to figure out the ‘correct’ way to behave. This is a phenomenon known as social proof,  which is fueled by the assumptions others in your network know more about a situation than you do. It is also part of our evolutionary programming: in uncharted territory it’s best to stick with the herd and move with the herd, lest we become an outlier, too slow to respond, and get picked off by the predator.
This Vaxxathon is a fantastic opportunity for trusted recognised leaders and celebrities not only to answer questions about the vaccine that people would like answers to, but also to encourage them to show up in particular places for face-to-face conversations where possible too. Through regional and national TV coverage that is geared just as much towards entertainment as it is towards education, people can see others just like them, lining up for the vaccine, seeing the process of what happens, and hearing conversations and stories about their experience too. This may help people develop enough confidence to come forwards to vaccination themselves, quickly and at a significant scale.

Renewing the Government’s social license

A social license is a complex thing with many definitions, but for here, let me just call it the ability of the Government to carry out its business because of the confidence society has that it will behave legitimately, with accountability and responsibly. In my previous post and thread, you’ll see that this is tricky right now, with the challenge of further incursion of the Delta variant meaning a pivot away from a pure elimination approach to … something else that hasn’t been so clearly articulated. While we hope they will further develop this articulation, what they have made clear is the process by which we prepare ourselves to move to another stage. This then becomes the arena in which there needs to be confidence and trust while we wait for the next staging post in our pandemic journey to be outlined with more clarity.
The vaxxathon is about offering high visibility for the vaccine process, to improve and increase trust that this is the right action for everyone to take, and to offer hope and visible progress towards increasing protection for all of us, together. This is also about securing a social license that moving into the next stage of the pandemic is a shared responsibility, rather than solely being about the Government offering large acts of protection.
Government can do what Government can do to prepare the wider health and economic system for what is about to come next. But the Vaxxathon is about offering hope, information, trusted faces and voices, social proof, a whole heap of stories, and a collective experience once again.

Get into it

I’m double-vaccinated already, but I’m going to have a blast.

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