Jennifer Aniston has influenced millions of women to cut their hair to be just like Rachel on Friends — could she influence millions more to cut anti-vaxxers out of their lives?
Aniston, whose reach spans generations of fans, last week revealed she had cut off people who won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’ve just lost a few people in my weekly routine who have refused or did not disclose [whether or not they had been vaccinated], and it was unfortunate,” Aniston told InStyle magazine.
“It’s tricky because everyone is entitled to their own opinion but a lot of opinions don’t feel based in anything except fear or propaganda.”
Aniston later told her 37.7 million Instagram followers an unvaccinated person could infect her even though she was vaccinated.
“I may get slightly sick but I will not be admitted to a hospital and or die. BUT I CAN give it to someone else who does not have the vaccine and whose health is compromised (or has a previous existing condition) — and therefore I would put their lives at risk. THAT is why I worry. We have to care about more than just ourselves here,” Aniston wrote.
Dozens of high-profile celebrities including Dolly Parton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Jonas have shared their experiences getting the COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to encourage others to do the same.
But Aniston is the first major influencer to denounce those who choose to not get vaccinated.
Associate professor Joy Parkinson, the research director for social marketing at Griffith University, said Aniston’s announcement could have unintended consequences.
“When you begin to make a big statement like that, it can have those kind of backfiring effects where people then might cut them out of their life rather than encouraging them to get vaccinated,” Dr Parkinson said.
The ‘Angelina Jolie Effect’
Aniston’s reach cannot be overstated. When the former Friends star joined Instagram in 2019 she broke the record for the fastest time to reach 1 million followers on the platform.
There’s a long history of evidence that shows you can be influenced by a celebrity you aspire to be like or align yourself with, as long as you perceive that information to be trustworthy, Dr Parkinson said.
“It doesn’t matter which way, whether it’s positive or negative. If people aspire to be like that particular celebrity, they will be swayed — particularly if they are on the fence.”
A key example of how a celebrity can influence health choices is the so-called “Angelina Jolie Effect”.
Research has found there was an increase in genetic tests for breast cancer after actress Angelina Jolie revealed in 2013 that she had a preventive double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene.
Jessica Kaufman, an expert on vaccination communication from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said while Aniston’s decision would impact some people, it would be hard to measure just how much.
Dr Kaufman said she would also not recommend Aniston’s choice.
“Cutting someone out of your life because they weren’t vaccinated, I would say is very extreme,” Dr Kaufman said.
“And of the options that you can take — and it depends a bit if it’s something where you have a family member who is on the fence — you can have a much better impact.”
How to talk to an unvaccinated person about the COVID vaccine
Dr Kaufman said choosing not to spend time with someone who is unvaccinated because they pose a serious risk to your own health, or the health of someone in your family, was a valid decision.
But cutting people out just because they are yet to get the COVID-19 vaccine risks demonising those who are on the fence.
“Most people are not strident anti-vaxxers. Most people who are not currently vaccinated are on some part of the spectrum of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr Kaufman said.
“And if the pro-vaccine people get too loud and aggressive and accusatory, they really could be pushing those people further from vaccinating because they don’t feel comfortable talking about it, they don’t know where to go for information, they think they’re going to get judged.”
Dr Kaufman said sharing your own experience could potentially sway those around you to get the COVID-19 vaccine and help “demystify” it.
However, if they are stridently against getting the vaccine, the next option would be to avoid having conversations about it to maintain a relationship with people who are important to you.
“If everyone who doesn’t believe in conspiracies cuts off everyone who does, then people who believe in conspiracies end up in that sort of self-perpetuating bubble where they only interact with other people who believe in those conspiracies,” Dr Kaufman said.
“So at least if you maintain a relationship with someone who’s sort of down that rabbit hole, they are exposed to alternative perspectives, even if you’re kind of avoiding having that fight.
“If the vaccinated person is maintaining use of masks, maintaining hygiene, staying reasonably distant, meeting with them outside — there are a lot of ways that you can mitigate those risks to yourself and not cut someone out of your life.”