RIT alum helps boost confidence in vaccine

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In an effort to boost the adoption of COVID-19 vaccines, a Rochester Institute of Technology alum has launched VacSeen, which makes and delivers blue silicone wristbands. 

Through the wristbands, expected to be worn by individuals once they are vaccinated, Ian Mikutel, who graduated from RIT in 2010, and Greg Akselrod hope to build social momentum around inoculation.

“We think there’s a real need for this now. People are looking to the long term and wondering, ‘How do I go to my local coffee shop and make sure people are relatively safe?’” says Mikutel, principal product manager at Microsoft in Seattle.

VacSeen has attracted national attention. Its Kickstarter campaign, which ends Jan. 10, has raised more than five times its goal of $1,000. Donors of $5 receive one bracelet; $1,000 donors will get 400. Half of proceeds from the campaign will benefit pandemic relief.

“We’re frankly blown away by the response,” Mikutel says. “Coaches want them for their teams. A major company here in Seattle reached out, wanting them to build morale for employees. Two major hospitals have contributed, wanting 400 bracelets for now for all of their health care workers.” 

Ian Mikutel

VacSeen will work with hospitals and other organizations in the coming months to supply bracelets as vaccinations rise. The campaign operates on the premise that people—even skeptics—are more inclined to trust members of their social circle who get vaccinated. The bracelets aren’t proof of vaccination, but more “peace of mind,” Mikutel says.

Scores of reports show that Americans are uncertain about the two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use. A recent McKinsey & Co. article notes that there are at least five challenges to at-scale vaccine adoption:

  • Historical precedents that illustrate challenges of the adoption of public health initiatives in the United States.
  • An estimated 50 percent to 70 percent of Americans are uncertain about getting a vaccine against COVID-19.
  • Complex drivers of uncertainty including safety and side effects.
  • A number of credible influencers—doctors and nurses—are unsure about recommending vaccinations.
  • Existing misinformation that could increase in the future.

However, McKinsey researchers believe that public- and private-sector leaders can act to influence adoption. It would take an incremental investment of $10 billion to assuage fears and augment vaccination among at least 100 million Americans. Such efforts should include employers, the government, health care providers and insurers, they say.

On a much smaller scale, VacSeen is one way to spread the word and boost confidence in the vaccine. Through the campaign, Mikutel believes, he can do something to make people comfortable about getting their shot.

“Seeing the bracelets can also serve as a reminder to people to get their follow-up shot,” he says. “It’s a way to keep it present.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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