On Tuesday, Apple shared a vaccine-friendly new update to the syringe emoji. The updated design does not contain blood, which makes it more versatile and accurate in the context of vaccines.
Previously, people used the syringe emoji on Twitter to signify a variety of things, including donating blood, administering drugs, or getting a tattoo, as Emojipedia reported. Now, however, people primarily use the syringe emoji on Twitter to refer to the COVID-19 vaccination. So the new version of the syringe emoji, which is rolling out with the new iOS 14.5 beta (and available to more iPhone users in the spring), better reflects how people are using it in 2021.
The change might seem pretty minor, but the words and images we use to talk about vaccines—a crucial public health tool—really do matter. Traditionally, images that accompany stories or social media posts about vaccines often include closeups of huge needles, crying kids, and medically inaccurate vaccine administration, SELF explained previously. That can contribute to the incorrect assumption that getting a vaccine must be an unsafe, scary, and horribly painful process. (In fact, this is one reason why SELF partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics to create accurate, non-scary vaccine stock images in 2019.)
Giving people a more accurate, less ominously bloody symbol to include in discussions about vaccines—in public social media posts or private messages with friends and family—is definitely a net positive for dispelling vaccine hesitancy and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Removing the blood makes this emoji more versatile, and also might remove any misconception that vaccination involves blood,” Jeremy Burge, chief emoji officer of Emojipedia, told CNN. (The earliest version of the emoji was originally used in Japan to signify donating blood, Emojipedia explains.) “Whether this directly impacts how the emoji is used or if it assists vaccination rates we don’t yet know,” Burge told CNN, “but it shouldn’t hurt.”
Of course, there are many reasons why someone might be hesitant about taking the COVID-19 vaccine, including misinformation, the history of systemic racism in medicine, concerns about political influence, or not having a space to discuss their concerns with a medical professional. And an emoji certainly can’t address all of that. But having a symbol that more realistically represents vaccines—even in informal discussions with friends—is helpful all the same.