STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A health authority in Sweden unwittingly used 'Hide the Pain Harold' - one of the internet's most-recognised figures - as the face of its COVID-19 vaccination booking website, officials said on Tuesday evening, adding the image had now been removed.
Harold is actually Hungarian man Andras Arato, who in 2008 and 2009 posed as a model for stock photographs. Those images of a grey-bearded man wearing a smile but with sad, pained eyes became an internet meme dubbed "Hide the Pain Harold" as they were shared and reused with new, humorous captions by millions online.
"Harold" briefly fronted the website where Stockholm city residents can book their COVID-19 vaccines after the city used a stock photo of Arato from a photo agency database.
"We did not know it was a meme until we noticed this. But of course, we have made sure to change the picture now," Hanna Fellenius, a spokeswoman for Stockholm Region told Reuters.
It took Arato nine years to discover he was one of the internet's most recognisable faces, but since then he used his celebrity to commercial advantage: fronting advertising campaigns for German retailer Otto and giving a TED talk.
The regional agency, responsible for the health of around one million Stockholm residents, said it believed the gaffe had not hurt public confidence in vaccines.
"Our assessment is that the publication for a few hours of an image that is not in itself misleading or inappropriate does not damage confidence in the covid-19 vaccinations."
(Reporting by Colm Fulton; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)