#TeamHalo: Scientists and healthcare experts combatting Covid-19 vaccine misinformation

Photo by fernandozhiminaicela on Pixabay

Vaccine hesitancy caused by misinformation shared online is a world-wide web that has tangled its way across the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, the slower we are to getting vaccinated and protecting ourselves and others from this infectious disease, the longer it will take for us to leave the pandemic.

Dr Bnar Talabani MBE is an Immunology Scientist and representative of the group of experts who are standing up against this global issue. They are known as #TeamHalo. We invited Dr Talabani onto a live Q&A event, hosted alongside Parents United (a UK campaign group for Covid-safe schools), on our Support Community platform to give our audience the chance to raise their concerns around Covid vaccine safety and have their questions answered by a trusted source.

#TeamHalo

#TeamHalo is United Nations-verified initiative involving a global group of science and healthcare professionals working to address Covid-19 vaccine concerns and misinformation with the ultimate goal to bring an end to the pandemic. Dr Talabani joined the group in April 2020 following the formation of a group in Wales with similar aims, known as Muslim Doctors Cymru or MDC. She recognised the value in sharing evidence-based content across a variety of languages and jurisdictions and believes social media is the future for knowledge-sharing.

“The majority of misinformation or disinformation is being shared on social media. So, it makes sense that we use social media to share accurate, scientific information. I think moving forward we should normalise professionals being on social media and sharing their expertise, advice and evidence to teach people the difference between scientifically-backed information and that which lacks evidence.”

Not only does the group improve accessibility of this information on a global scale, but also the network of professionals involved ensures questions can be answered factually by someone with relevant expertise. Dr Talabani says, “The biggest success is that we are a collective effort – we're a team. If there's a question about managing Covid and I don't know the answer, I can tap into the resources of my Halo colleagues who are experts in that field.”

“We're all from different walks of life and speak different languages. It's a lovely way to be able to address misinformation across the globe.”

Misinformation Thrives on Fear

It’s important to remember that hesitancy isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, people are encouraged to be sceptical of the information they consume, especially online. What differentiates genuine concern from scaremongering, however, is the way in which the latter feeds into people’s apprehensions.

Dr Talabani says, “I've dealt with sensible questions like, ‘if the vaccines were produced so quickly, how do we know they're safe?’. That's a very legitimate concern. And it's easily addressable when you understand the process of how Covid vaccines were produced.

But then there are other things, like ridiculous claims about vaccines increasing your chance of contracting HIV. And that’s difficult because the way misinformation plays on fear makes it go viral compared to sensible, scientific, evidence-based advice.”

The solution, according to Dr Talabani, is to educate people to a level at which they can recognise the distinction between fact and fake news. “We need to improve science literacy to explain what evidence actually is. So that ultimately, we can facilitate informed decision making.”

  • Listen to the full Q&A available via Covid Matters on all podcasting platforms, or watch the YouTube video recording above.  

  • Follow Dr Bnar Talabani MBE on social media @bnar to stay informed or visit teamhalo.org for more information and explore experts in different countries.

  • You can join our free Covid-19 Support Community to take part in upcoming Live Q&A events, access our online Courses or connect with others across the UK dealing with the lasting impact of Covid-19.

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