#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.”