Paging Dr. Internet, we need a diagnosis. In this series, Mashable examines the online world’s influence on our health and prescribes new ways forward.
TikTok: an app for music, memes, and medically-accurate vaccine information?
Increasingly, medical professionals are using the app to share myth-busting information about things like the COVID-19 vaccine, rates of infection, and COVID treatments, all through succinct, engaging videos that will hopefully reach the people who need them. At the very least, they offer a link for other viewers to send to their more stubborn friends and relatives.
Stopping the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has been a long battle led by government officials, news outlets, and health professionals. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has its own guide to combatting misinformation, and other social media platforms, like YouTube, have even gone so far as banning content that contains vaccine misinformation.
TikTok has taken its own steps to ensuring its users get the most accurate information about COVID-19 and the vaccine, like information centers with links to government resources, FAQs, and videos from official health organizations built directly into the app (just search “covid” or “covid vaccine” and click the top link). The app even places information banners on videos that mention the virus.
Beyond these resources, though, creators have taken on the task of addressing misinformation in their own comments and on trending videos by fellow TikTok users. The eight accounts highlighted below actively share videos about the COVID vaccine, treatment, and the realities of medical science.
For the science behind the spread of COVID-19 and the vaccine (as well as a bit of biting sarcasm), head to EpidemiologistKat’s page. Katrine Wallace is an epidemiologist and adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. Through TikTok, she shares general information about COVID-19, vaccines, and public health, and is also a member of the UN’s Project Halo, a team of doctors, scientists, and other medical professionals from around the world sharing accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines. Kat’s account is engaging, informative, and great for viewers who want succinct, research-filled videos to share with others.
As a hospital physician, Dr.Eric.B is just as tired about vaccine misinformation as the rest of us, but he still makes it online everyday to let people know when they’re wrong. Dr. Eric Burnett specializes in hospital and internal medicine, is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University, and is a member of Team Halo alongside Wallace. The bulk of his videos address conspiracies shared in his own comment section and debunk common misinformation about both the vaccine and treatment options that are frequently spread across the app. Burnett also tags fellow creators who are spreading dangerous misinformation on the app, disputing their claims and warning his own followers.
Asher Williams, another member of Team Halo, is tackling vaccine misinformation using TikTok trending sounds and humor, as well as years of experience in her field. A chemical engineer and researcher focused on vaccine manufacturing at Cornell, and former NASA bioengineering intern, Williams shares about the science behind vaccines with her followers. Her videos are both informational and relatable to younger audiences, as she combines facts with the voice of Keke Palmer or ABBA’s “Slipping Through My Fingers”.
Anna Blakney’s account is full of hard science and memes, making it a great resource for people of all ages who want to combat vaccine misinformation. Blakney is a researcher and professor of biomedical engineering at the University of British Columbia, as well as a Team Halo ambassador. Her videos cover a wide variety of topics within vaccine science and lab research — like highlights of the scientists who made the COVID vaccine possible, explanations of virus variants, and explainers on FDA approval. She also started her own YouTube channel to offer deeper science explanations about vaccines — check out her first video on the history of mRNA use in vaccine development. Blakney’s videos have the same vibe as Bill Nye-esque science shows for kids, but for adults who want to promote vaccines and public health.
Christina Kim is a nurse practitioner and verified TikTok celeb making succinct science videos for her more than 300,000 followers. She has a background in biochemistry that aids her explanations of difficult-to-understand vaccine research, and is a Team Halo ambassador. As a health professional for high-risk cancer patients, Kim advocates heavily for vaccinations to help those most vulnerable and has treated her own clinic patients affected by COVID-19 by administering monoclonal antibody therapies. Kim’s account is full of quick rebuttals of common misinformation, as well as duets with other popular creators (like EpidemiologistKat).
Dr. Siyab Panhwar is a physician, cardiology fellow, and member of Team Halo who shares informational one minute videos and snarky conspiracy theory takedowns about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Because of his medical expertise, some of Panhwar’s most popular videos address the fear of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) affecting young men who get the vaccine (he reassures his viewers that these risks are rare). He also calls out misleading headlines and duets creators directly to debunk their incorrect science. Like many other creators, Panhwar has conveniently organized all of his videos into playlists at the top of his page to make finding and sharing accurate information even easier.
Dr. Britni Hebert started her “A TikTok a day to keep COVID away” series in March, with the goal of convincing her viewers that the pros of vaccination far outweigh the “cons.” As an internal medicine and geriatrics doctor, Hebert treats her followers in the same way she would her patients, with clear communication and compassion. Many of her videos offer gentle reassurances for those feeling anxiety about vaccines and treatment. And she responds directly to misinformation or vaccine hesitancy in her comments. In response to one viewer claiming health professionals are just pushing the vaccine onto others and not taking it themselves, Hebert posted her vaccine journey several months after getting her first shot, from an exciting first visit to the clinic in December 2020 to going out for a run just 48 hours after her second dose.
If you’d like to learn more about the stark reality of being a COVID nurse and vaccine misinformation, go through the videos on Jesss2019’s page. She has six years of experience as a registered nurse, worked in her state’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics during the pandemic, and recently decided to pursue a career in medical research. She frequently calls out fellow nurses who choose not to get vaccinated or share misinformation. She’s a member of Team Halo, and also has an extremely robust LinkTree (also linked in her TikTok bio), with dozens of sites sharing research, resources for health care workers, and other important vaccine-related information.