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Rise of the Tik Docs: The scientists using social media to debunk vaccine myths

·5-min read
 (TikTok)
(TikTok)

When you think of TikTok, what springs to mind is probably teens dancing to Olivia Rodrigo in their rooms or viral sea shanties. An app firmly in the clutches of Gen Z, it’s certainly not a place where you’d expect to find the world’s leading scientists.

But with vaccines providing the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, science and TikTok have become important collaborators in the fight against the pandemic.

Scientists working on vaccines have been using TikTok to provide information and reassurance about the safety of jabs.

Think less graphs and bar charts and more accessible explanations from trusted experts, all within 60-second video formats and set to catchy backing tracks and fun visuals.

These scientists are part of Team Halo, a collaboration between the United Nations and the Vaccine Confidence Project, an initiative run by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

They are providing a vital role. Since the start of the pandemic, wild claims about Covid-19, including suggestions that Bill Gates has bugged vaccines with microchips, have troubled the internet and the real-life impact of such conspiracy theories could endanger lives.

Here are some of the scientists making short videos on TikTok to explain their part in the vaccine effort:

Dr Asher Williams

@drasherwilliams

Location: Trinidad and Tobago

Based in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Asher Williams is a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, researching ways of simplifying vaccine manufacturing in low-income countries. Dr Asher somehow manages to keep up with all the latest TikTok trends, keeping her whopping 111k followers engaged with dances, anecdotes and educational content. Even if she wasn’t educating the masses, she’s still worth a follow just for the laughs.

Jaqueline Goes de Jesus

@drajaquelinegoes

Location: Brazil

Over in Brazil with more than 16k followers, Jacqueline Goes de Jesus is tackling vaccine hesitancy through short, snappy, informative videos debunking myths about the Covid jab. She is a biomedical scientist in charge of the genetic sequencing of Covid-19 in the first cases of the virus in Latin America. While most of her videos are educational explainers, she also posts entertaining content such as “A day in the life of a scientist”, or this iconic video of her getting vaxxed herself. She is currently working as a fellow at the São Paulo Research Foundation.

Dr Meenal Viz & Dr Nishant Joshi

@drmeenalviz

Location: UK

Dr Meenal Viz, Dr Nishant Joshi and baby Radhika are the Joshi trio who have been campaigning for healthcare workers throughout the pandemic. Last year, during the first wave of the pandemic, Dr Meenal Viz protested outside Downing Street while pregnant with Radhika. The protest gained worldwide media attention and now Meenal and Nishant hope to use their platform to spread positivity and help demystify the vaccine. Changing the world one TikTok at a time!

Nishant works as a GP and has played a big role in working with local ethnic minority communities to start important dialogue around the vaccines and has been working closely with community leaders to share informed messages. Meenal has been working from home with Radhika, focusing on campaigns to help inform women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding to make informed choices around the vaccine.

Dr Simone Richardson

@scientistsim

Location: South Africa

Relatively new on the TikTok scene, Dr Simone is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg. Simone’s work is focused on understanding how antibody function contributes to protection against Covid-19. Her videos are identifiable by their unique cartoon-style thumbnails, something Simone loves to do in her spare time. Her latest TikTok, 5 reasons why you should get vaccinated ASAP, is definitely one to send to any friends or family having doubts about the jab.

Dr Nighat Arif

@drnighatarif

Location: UK

Dr Nighat Arif is a GP based in Buckinghamshire, specialising in women’s health and family planning. She has been working on the frontline caring for patients and has contracted Covid-19 herself, and now her surgery is administering jabs. Her TikTok bio “Inclusion, inspire, empower” pretty much sums up her work. As a British Pakistani, Muslim woman and mother she navigates and unites her different cultures in a positive and educational way, and is able to consult fluently with patients in Urdu and Punjabi. Nighat is also the resident doctor on BBC Breakfast, ITV’s This Morning and BBC Look East, updating viewers on the latest medical news, so her TikToks often contain fun, behind-the-scenes studio footage.

Dr Vicky Baille

@drsars_cov_2

Location: South Africa

Dr Vicky is one of those women that makes me doubt whether we all have the same number of hours in the day. As well as being a senior researcher at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Analytics Research Unit in South Africa, she also has extensive laboratory experience in microbiology and molecular biology and is one of the lead scientists on the AstraZeneca vaccine trial in South Africa. On top of all of this, she has TikTok down to a tee, educating the masses with fun, upbeat videos and collaborations with her colleagues. She is a mother too, and uses her platform to answer questions about getting the vaccine while pregnant.

Professor Shiv Pillai

@profpillaipoet

Location: India/USA

Part time poet, full time immunologist, Professor Shiv is the endearing uncle you never knew you needed. A professor at Harvard Medical School where he’s director of the immunology postgraduate programmes, he is raising awareness about the dangers of vaccine misinformation through the unorthodox medium of TikTok poetry. Although he is a world leader in his field, his videos are so down to earth and charming - we can’t get enough!

Daniela Ferreira

@danielaferreiracientista

Location: UK/Brazil

Daniela Ferreira is a Professor of Vaccinology at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, one of the centres that verifies the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca jab. She currently leads several clinical studies for the development of vaccines against pneumonia and, recently, against Covid-19.

Although quite fresh on the TikTok scene, she managed to go viral with a video she made talking about her experience getting the Covid-19 jab getting almost 200k views. From 2001 to 2009, she worked on the development of new vaccines against pneumococcus (the bacterium responsible for causing diseases such as meningitis and bacterial pneumonia) at the Butantan Institute, in São Paulo.

 (The People’s Picture Photo Mosaics.)
(The People’s Picture Photo Mosaics.)

‘The Luminaries’ is an interactive photo mosaic created in partnership with the UK Government and the People’s Picture as part of a wider campaign supporting vaccine confidence. Using video and images it showcases the many global ‘Vaccine Luminaries’ who are taking to social media to build confidence in vaccines, including health care professionals on the front line. The platform is available on a dedicated website (here) with plans to feature more ‘Vaccine Luminaries’ from around the world over the next year.

Visit Team Halo to find out more

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