Stock Photos for Vaccines Are Notoriously Bad, So We Created Our Own

Vaccines are a big topic in the media lately—from the current measles outbreak to the growing sentiment of vaccine hesitancy, which the World Health Organization listed as one of the top ten threats to public health this year.

As a health brand it’s our job to talk about these issues in a way that is accurate, empathetic, and responsible. We know that the media can play a huge role in the way that people perceive and understand issues of public health—including vaccines. So when we decided to publish our package, Vaccines Save Lives, we knew that the headlines and images we chose to accompany our reporting would be just as important as the information inside.

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. 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. And look, there might be some truth to that—lots of people dislike needles. But it’s also true that vaccines save lives.

Because of vaccines we are able to protect against serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, from the flu and chicken pox to measles, polio, and even cervical cancer. With high enough rates of vaccinations, we’re able to create herd immunity, which offers protection even for those in the community who cannot get vaccinated themselves.

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We wanted to create stock photography about getting vaccinated that is medically accurate, realistic, and not fear-mongering. To make sure these photos accurately reflected what really happens when you and your family get vaccinated, we partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics in creating these photos. They consulted with us in advance of the shoot to help us figure out what images we needed to get. We then invited an AAP-affiliated physician to join us on set, to help make sure in real time that the images we were capturing reflected reality (for instance, that toddlers weren’t pictured on an exam table without a parent present, that doctors weren’t counseling patients in the waiting room, etc.). Then after the shoot we worked with the AAP to choose the final selection of images, eliminating pictures that didn’t meet their high standards. The AAP held us accountable for creating images that are not just relatable and beautiful but also accurate. And as with all SELF original stock photos, we wanted to make sure the images were inclusive, so that our readers can see themselves represented in our content.

All of the images are available to download free of charge on Flickr or from the AAP website with proper attribution—because we want people to continue to talk about the life-saving power of vaccines, and we want them to have access to free imagery that is both medically accurate and tells a positive story about the value of vaccines.

Getting vaccinated is a powerful part of protecting not just your health but the health of those around you. Vaccination is not just an individual issue—it’s a public health issue—and we wanted to create images that accurately show the range of people and experiences that contribute to that. We hope you enjoy them.

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This story is part of a larger package called Vaccines Save Lives. You can find the rest of the package here.


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