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Stock photos for vaccines are dangerously bad, so this photographer redesigned them

Let the anti-propaganda campaign begin!

The misinformation behind the anti-vaxxer movement has gone far enough. The United States is on the precipice of a major measles resurgence because of pseudoscientific propaganda. We need more resources that truthfully and clearly communicate the science from the CDC and WHO that proves that vaccines are safe—and you should have your children vaccinated for everything from the flu to polio. One overlooked tool in that fight? Stock photos.

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[Photo: Heather Hazzan/courtesy Self Magazine]

Much of the imagery typically used to illustrate vaccine information, in everything from news stories to resources published by the medical community, is just terrible. It often involves giant syringes, sterile labs, and factories full of chicken eggs, the sorts of visuals that can make vaccines look scary instead of healthy and empowering.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics teamed up with SELF magazine and photographer Heather Hazzan to create a collection of downright joyous, medically accurate, royalty-free photos for anyone to use when writing or promoting vaccinations. The work was used in SELF‘s new editorial package Vaccines Save Lives, with help from team of professional freelancers who handled the hair, set decoration, and wardrobe.

[Photo: Heather Hazzan/courtesy Self Magazine]
“The stock photography commonly used in stories about vaccines are often medically inaccurate in a range of ways, from showing the wrong syringes to showing shots being administered incorrectly. In addition to that, you typically see a lot of crying babies, anxious-looking patients, and close-up shots of oversized needles,” writes SELF executive editor Casey Gueren. “While it’s no secret that getting a shot isn’t usually a fun experience, imagery that’s frightening and inaccurate only further perpetuates the idea that vaccines are just scary, painful, and something both parents and their children dread.”

Instead of photography that exaggerates fear and the nervousness of the person getting the vaccine, Hazzan’s photos demonstrate people of all ages and backgrounds happily sitting in a doctor’s office, and receiving a (small!) shot in the arm. Who would have thought a vaccine was so painless?

[Photo: Heather Hazzan/courtesy Self Magazine]

Now, admittedly, there’s some photo-friendly fudging going on here. You’ve never seen a doctor’s office full of such superbly styled wardrobes, teased hair, and even props (a vase of fresh flowers inside a hospital?!?). You’ve probably never seen such happy patients, either. I fully endorse the superpowers granted by vaccines, and yet, you probably won’t see me grinning ear to ear with freshly whitened teeth when my nurse walks in with a tray full of needles.

[Photo: Heather Hazzan/courtesy Self Magazine]
But in the war for the truth, perhaps it’s time that those with the empirically proven science in hand, and the best interests of humanity at heart, adopt classic marketing techniques. We need depictions of vaccinators as a hip and happy group of folks who are, after all, granting kids LIFELONG IMMUNITY TO A DEADLY DISEASE IN SECONDS, just like we need new ways of illustrating the planet’s fragile miracle of providing us with fresh air and water, or the biological equality, measurable right down to our DNA, of all people on this earth. So put on a smile, fam. Let’s make some messaging that’s on the right side of science—and history.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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