What You Need To Know About “Brand Tribalism” Surrounding Covid-19 Vaccines

Flash back to just a few months ago and the world was a united force. The global coronavirus pandemic that had seized headlines continued to see cities enter a state of lockdown and with international travel largely off the cards, world leaders quickly realised that the only way forward was to stand united in the quest for a vaccine. As scientists toiled in their laboratories, it became deeply apparent that we wouldn’t return to the normal we once knew – one in which social distancing wasn’t a necessity when going out and masks only applied to those creams applied during your night-time routine – until the vaccinations were available and administered. But now, even with the vaccine rollout taking place around the world, it appears a more contentious issue has sprung up: that of which brand vaccine you want, and where you can get it. 

With a number of safe and effective vaccines now available around parts of the globe, attention has turned to which offer superior efficacy and safety. Like you might expect of smartphone users, a type of “brand tribalism” has emerged, which has seen people bandy together all due to their vaccine options. Take a cursory scroll on social media and there’s ample evidence of this, particularly in the United States where the vaccine rollout hasn’t been limited to age groups. Residents int he US now post their vaccine “team” or “tribe” preferences on social media, saying “only hot people get the Pfizer Vaccine.”

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While Britain and the US have seen younger generations create an ideal around certain vaccines, painting them as “hot” and sexy, or in the case of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, one that invokes warm feelings for its not-for-profit roots, here in Australia our brand loyalty is one founded on safety. Since the move away from the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50, brand preferences have been about the safety of the vaccine rather than efficacy. It might sound like just another trend unfolding on social media, but there are some consequences to these views, namely that the public isn’t fully aware of the vaccine brands. 

Just like most influenza vaccines, a variety of brands are used across various age groups, just like we’re doing now for Covid-19. The difference though, is that no one ever questions just what brand of flu vaccine they’re getting. So why the sudden interest in what brand of vaccine for Covid? As The Conversation argues, “The difference with flu vaccines, we hypothesise, is that although health-care providers are told about the different influenza vaccine brands so they can safely vaccinate people with the age-appropriate vaccine, the brands themselves are never front page news.”

The publication adds: “Flu vaccine brands are only ever sold to consumers as “the” flu vaccine. But Covid-19 vaccine brands feel like a buffet in which consumers don’t actually have much choice.”

Unlike overseas where brand allegiance has led some people to orient themselves towards vaccinating, here in Australia our preferences are significantly influenced by vaccine supply problems and specific age group allocation. It means we don’t see brand tribalism as a fun expression of identity but rather are influenced by news coverage of the vaccines, which has frequently turned negative. As The Conversation notes, “governments need to keep backing the available vaccines that people can safely receive according to their age and risk profile, not encouraging people to wait for new ones.”

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Still, there are some positives to be drawn from the hyper-awareness we have of vaccine brands relating to Covid, namely that we are more aware of the science behind the development and safety of vaccines. Now we can only hope that this improved scientific literacy can help people feel at ease about the vaccines and the rigorous testing behind them, and that more Australians continue to get theirs. 

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