Doctors are using TikTok (and getting millions of views) to explain why young people should get the COVID vaccine

doctors on tiktok
Photos via @drwillbudd/TikTok and @anna.blakney/TikTok

In an effort to encourage more young people to get inoculated, a global network of doctors has teamed up to dispel common myths about the coronavirus vaccines on TikTok and other social media platforms. And since the group’s launch last summer, their combined videos have been viewed more than 95 million times on TikTok alone.

The group is known as Team Halo, which describes itself as “an effort to support and celebrate the inspiring collaboration between scientists all over the world to help us end this pandemic with safe and effective vaccines.” According to the Team Halo website, the initiative was established as part of the United Nations’ Verified initiative with The Vaccine Confidence Project at the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

U.K.-based healthcare professionals Dr. Will Budd, 25, and Dr. Tasnim Jara, 26, are two young doctors who answer questions about the vaccine in their spare time. Video creators such as Budd and Jara are known as “guides” in the Halo network.

Budd is also employed as a clinical research physician at Imperial College London. The facility he works at helped perform clinical trials of both the Oxford and Imperial COVID-19 vaccine candidates. “Obviously, I think the vaccine is very important,” Budd told iNews.

“I was shielding during the first wave, so I understand the benefits of coming out of COVID,” Budd explained. “I also see a lot of misinformation, and I think the worst thing for healthcare is people not getting treatment because of things spread online, so I want to dispel common myths.”

Among those myths are that COVID-19 vaccines can cause pregnancy risks, infertility, low sperm counts, and even breast cancer.

Jara, who works as an emergency doctor in Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital, makes short videos in Bengali to tackle vaccine-related misinformation. She currently has 1.5 million combined followers on Facebook and YouTube, and her videos have been viewed nearly 280 million minutes total.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been no shortage of scare stories, misinformation, and myths surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines,” said Jara in a recent interview, according to Medscape, a resource for healthcare professionals.

“If people reject vaccines because of reliable information being inaccessible, we will lose many lives that could have been saved. So, I joined Team Halo,” Jara continued. “Thousands of people have commented on Team Halo videos with positive feedback. Some say that our videos have helped them make the decision to take the vaccine; others say the videos have clarified their misconception.”

Why has the strategy of doctors on TikTok been so successful? 

Rebecca Christopher, a Team Halo director who previously worked in digital media and politics, told Vice that it first had to look at what wasn’t working to develop a viable strategy.

“We looked at the communication strategies that were coming from large institutions,” said Christopher. “They tended to be heavily invested in crafting the perfect message … and every molecule of oxygen is taken up by that single perfect message. It’s a hallmark of institutional communication at a time when people don’t really value or trust them.”

Because there is no single message that can universally build confidence in vaccines, Halo can use its social media reach to craft a wide variety of messages with a “content engine” of individual vaccine experts. Team Halo guides have free autonomy to post about whatever they want, though Christopher said the doctors are provided training on how to communicate effectively and to maximize reach and engagement.

The organization is also aware that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So instead of shaming people into getting vaccinated, the content tends to skew fun and educational.

For example, one of Budd’s TikTok videos called “Why take the vaccine?” encourages a return to everyday life, such as going to bars and restaurants, attending concerts and sporting events, traveling, and hanging out with friends.

Due to the rapid scale and speed of the vaccine rollout, Budd says it was “understandable people had questions” and that he could see a disparity between vaccination campaigns and public concerns.

Anna Blakney, a Team Halo guide who serves as a biomedical engineering assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, told Vice that she tries to keep her videos positive and avoids mocking users. “My videos fall into a spectrum of educational and entertaining,” said Blakney. “Usually, the more entertaining ones get more views.”

And the more views Team Halo gets, the more factual information that doctors on TikTok can impart, hopefully taking the world one step closer to the end of the pandemic. 

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Sources: Vice, iNews, Medscape

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