Sticker Shock!

Rick Lesaar
5 min readMar 4, 2021

After receiving my first COVID shot here in Washington, DC, I was given a small slip of paper containing a URL to sign up for my second shot and the sticker pictured above. Let’s talk about that sticker.

But why? After all, it was just a small and insignificant handout. Why give it any attention at all? Because public health communications’ effect is cumulative and messages get through when they are repeated in multiple formats. So every such communication –even a sticker– reinforces others and all work in concert to build awareness and change behavior.

What’s the Purpose?

The purpose of the sticker is probably 95% to encourage others to get vaccinated and maybe 5% to let the wearer express some pride in having done so. Much like the ubiquitous “I Voted” stickers, these are outward-facing, meant to get others to do what the wearer has already done.

What’s the Message?

“I VACCINATED” is an odd construction, because except for a very small number of healthcare workers, no one gives themselves a vaccine. The phrase is simply not one you’re ever likely to hear someone say. On the other hand, “I got the vaccine” is much more natural, where “got” incorporates both “I took action to do something” and “I was given something.” In addition, “I got the vaccine” needs an exclamation mark. This statement should be a proud declaration, expressing a sense of excitement. But because the message is meant to get others to act, “I got the vaccine!” should be coupled with an exhortation for others to do the same. For example, “I got the vaccine! –now you!” or “I got the vaccine!” paired with “Now it’s your turn!”

Design Aside: Phrases in all caps are generally harder to read than text in upper-/lowercase. “I VACCINATED” will not be as quickly read and understood as “I vaccinated” or “I Vaccinated.”

Why the Hashtag?

Hashtags typically identify the topic of a photograph or a blogpost. They’re a way to find related content. Enter #hamburgers on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and you’ll find everyone else who used that hashtag and had something to say about, or pictures of, hamburgers. So what about the hashtag on DC’s sticker, “#GetVaccinated”? (The “DC” after the space is not part of the hashtag.) After entering this term, the top 100 returns in Google, Facebook, and Twitter did not contain a single reference to the DC government, let alone information on DC’s vaccination campaign. Instagram returned only 36 hits, again, none of which referenced DC. [ 1 ]

Why not a URL?

Instead of a hashtag, the sticker might better have displayed a URL linking to information about DC’s vaccination efforts. That URL would have been https://coronavirus.dc.gov. But here’s another problem: URLs should anticipate terms most likely to be used by viewers. As the chart below shows [ 2 ], since June 9, 2020 the them “COVID” has been more popular than “Coronavirus,” so it would be better to use “COVID” (or covid) in the URL.

And just to be sure there are no anomalies based on geography, here’s the same chart but just for Washington, DC. The trend is nearly identical and once again “COVID” has been the more prevalent term for some time now.

A simple way of handling this would be to use aliases; pages with different URLs that would automatically redirect the user to the one page on the DC site with all the virus information. Alias pages could have been –but were not– created for:

covid.dc.gov

dc.gov/covid

dc.gov/coronavirus

Why Bandaids?

Presumably the two bandaids shown on the sticker represent the two shots required for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and would also work for the AstraZeneca vaccine if and when it, too, is approved in the U.S. But it doesn’t work for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine now also being used here. Beyond that, in America a bandaid, as in the expression “Put a bandaid on it!” is seen as a check-the-box response with no practical or beneficial effect. A different graphic should probably have been used. Even something as simple as a smiling face would represent the positive aspects of getting vaccinated.

Does it Really Matter?

No and Yes. No in the sense that the sticker is not misleading or incorrect, will probably be worn for no more than a day or two, and any one sticker might be seen by no more than a dozen or so other people –if that, given the recommendation to avoid crowds or interactions with others. And Yes in the sense that if the U.S. is ever going to get to 70 or 80 percent immunization, we need to take, and maximize, every communications opportunity. If DC is going to hand out stickers, why not make them as effective as possible?

A Final Note

I said earlier that after my first shot the only paper I was given was the second shot sign-up URL. That, too, was a missed opportunity. Why were we not given a sheet with answers to frequently-asked questions like: Now that I have a first dose…

Do I need to continue to wear a mask?

Can I travel or dine inside restaurants?

Can I still get COVID?

What side effects might I experience and how should I treat them?

Can my second shot be from a different manufacturer?

What if I wait more than four weeks for my second shot?

Where do I find more information?

Information of this kind was distributed after my second shot, but not doing so after the first shot as well was a missed opportunity.

Please leave a note or comment below.

Notes

[ 1 ] Instagram’s results included this notice: “Recent posts from #getvaccinated are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.” It’s a safe bet that none of those restricted posts were from the DC government.

[ 2 ] “Interest over time.
Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.” — Google Trends

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Rick Lesaar
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Author of www.healthandcommunications.com on the intersection of health and communications. Get in touch at rlesaar@mac.com.