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Scientists take to TikTok to explain how vaccines work

Emily Chudy, PA
·3-min read

A group of scientists from across the world is taking to TikTok to reassure young people about new Covid-19 vaccines.

The group, Team Halo, is made up of clinicians and researchers from institutes across the world and aims to build confidence in the jabs, which are hoped to hold the key for a return to normal life.

Scientist Dr Anna Blakney, a research fellow at Imperial College London (ICL), has gained more than 185,000 followers through her vaccine-themed TikToks.

After news earlier this week that a promising Moderna vaccine partly funded by Dolly Parton, Dr Blakney recorded a version of her hit 9 to 5 to explain her work on the university’s own vaccine.

Dr Blakney, aged 30, said: “TikTok is all about inspiring creativity and bringing joy, and it’s fun to make some of my videos humorous. My general approach is that people come for the entertainment but stay for the science.”

Her posts may often refer to memes or popular sounds to encourage the app’s younger audience to engage, but she also spends a lot of time responding to queries from users.

“I get a lot of questions and the occasional troll but I am grateful to have the opportunity to explain our work to people who are curious and want to know more in a transparent way”.

Colleague Dr Paul McKay, 50, has been making TikToks for around a month as part of the project.

“A heck of a lot of the vaccine hesitancy issues are talked about and reinforced and self-reinforced on social media.”

Dr McKay, senior fellow at the university’s department of infectious disease, told the PA news agency some of the biggest worries he had encountered are that the Covid-19 vaccines are being rushed, or that they include toxic ingredients.

“Team Halo is about helping everyone understand the science behind what we do,” he said.

“Many people remain hesitant for various reasons but I want to reassure them that there have been no shortcuts in our process and explain that safe and effective vaccines are key to helping us end this pandemic.

“There’s lots of misconceptions… we can only give people the information, we can’t make them change their minds.”

He added: “TikToks are not aimed at or made by people like me. They think that people are old if they’re 28 – so it was about trying to reach that particular demographic.”

The initiative, which has 21 scientists known as Guides volunteering to post videos on social media, was established in collaboration with the United Nations Verified initiative and the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.