SEATTLE, WA (WROC) — Ian Mikutel graduated from RIT in 2010. Now, he is doing his part to build trust in the vaccination fight against COVID-19 from his current Seattle home.
Mikutel — who is a current employee at Microsoft with ten years of experience there — teamed up with a friend a former manager at Microsoft, Greg Akselrod, to develop, test, and eventually roll out a simple product called “VacSeen.”
VacSeen is simply a blue rubber bracelet that people would wear once they have gotten the vaccine. Mikutel and Akelsrod wanted to find a simple way to show that you’ve gotten the vaccine, while protecting your privacy.
“Nobody that we could find was actually looking at how do we do something at a grassroots level that just shows: ‘Hey, I have done this… I’m showing my support,'” said Mikutel.
This product was inspired by what Mikutel views as a lack of public trust in the vaccine, both between the novelty of a new virus and vaccine, and the ease of misinformation spread on social media. In his research, he found that most people are most convinced to get the vaccine once they know friends and family have gotten it.
To help build a greater level of public trust in the vaccine, Mikutel says that if more people wear these bands, more people will know that others have gotten the vaccine.
They settled on this design because they wanted something visual and subtle, since both the virus and vaccine are invisible. Mikutel and his team found in their research that Nike’s cancer awareness bands — a market once dominated by Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong bands” — were massively successful, and widely adopted.
“My family hadn’t been affected by (cancer) personally, but I remember asking people that were wearing it in high school,” he said. “(I would ask): ‘Hey, why are you what’s this about?’ And then they would have personal story or they would tell me a little bit of something about it.”
They settled on blue, because according to their research, blue is a very popular “favorite color,” and despite the blue/pink colors we decorate for newborns, most people code blue as gender neutral.
Mikutel also says there’s a level of personal safety as well. Most people still have to go out into the world, and make calculations everyday on what is safe, and who is safe to be around.
“You don’t really know if someone’s had (the vaccine),” he said. “And it’s also really awkward to just straight up ask somebody, right. We don’t expect people to want to do that.”
Mikutel also knows that the vaccination effort is massive, and he and his team wanted something that was easily scalable to massive quantities. The VacSeen team is already starting to partner with hospitals in the Seattle area, and hopes to expand their hospital programs.
In the meantime, individual orders can also be placed here.