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Meet The Medical Experts Debunking COVID Misinformation On TikTok

Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, joined TikTok at the start of the pandemic for the same reason we all did: She was bored and got sucked into the app’s endless scroll of funny dog and cat videos and viral trends.

Unfortunately, in between clips of people’s feta pasta and dance challenges, she saw a ton of COVID-19 misinformation.

“As an epidemiologist who is trained on how to read the scientific literature and data, I just couldn’t let it go unchecked without trying to set the record straight,” said Wallace, who goes by @epidemiologistkat on TikTok.

She started debunking the wildest claims, and soon, her follower count and the number of views on her videos began to grow massively. She currently has over 194,000 followers and counting.

“I think it showed that people have a real thirst for evidence-based information,” she told HuffPost. “Now the misinformation has largely moved from COVID-19 itself to the vaccines, so the need to counter misinformation is still present, if not even greater than before.”

Wallace is one of many medical professionals and scientists using TikTok to unpack vaccine news and debunk myths (which are plentiful on the platform). Sometimes this is done through straight fact-checking videos, sometimes through trending TikTok dances and lip-syncs.

For Wallace, the videos are a way to do her part to demystify the vaccine ― though she admits that sometimes being a medical content creator is like having a second job.

Still, she said, it’s worth all the effort when she hears from people saying they showed one of her videos to a co-worker or a loved one who then decided to get vaccinated.

“I’ll get a message from someone who lives in a small town where no one wears a mask, and they will tell me that I’m the only person that makes them feel sane,” she said. “The people who let me know I’m making a difference mean the world to me, and motivate me to keep going.”

HuffPost chatted with Wallace and several other medical practitioners and scientists who are using TikTok to educate the general public.

Katrine Wallace (@Epidemiologistkat)

@epidemiologistkat

Reply to @billdaley523 explaining base rate fallacy with vaccine breakthrough cases #breakthroughcases #vaccine #deltavariant #epidemiology #teamhalo

♬ original sound – Dr Kat, Epidemiologist

Wallace, the aforementioned epidemiologist, is at her best when she’s explaining trends in COVID rates — like in this video, where she explains what was then a rising number of COVID cases among vaccinated people in Israel, and how that’s an illustration of the base rate fallacy.

“The base rate fallacy is when, in highly vaccinated populations, people use absolute numbers of COVID cases/hospitalizations and present the data as the number of vaccinated people in the hospital versus unvaccinated,” Wallace told HuffPost.

“This is used often to mislead the public into thinking the COVID-19 vaccines are not effective,” she said. “If you don’t adjust for the proper base rates of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated in the general population, it’s not a fair comparison.”

Anna Blakney (@anna.blakney)

@anna.blakney

Reply to @the_conservative_dre They’re new but they’re not that new. #teamhalo #learnontiktok

♬ Classical Music – Classical Music

Anna Blakney, an assistant professor in biomedical engineering at the University of British Columbia, began creating videos on TikTok as a part of Team Halo, an organization started by the United Nations and the Vaccine Confidence Project to connect the general public with scientists and clinicians working on COVID-19.

Blakney now has more than 250,000 followers on her page, where she breaks down everything from why COVID variants exist to how scientists were able to develop the vaccine seemingly so quickly.

“I get a lot of positive responses when I post videos about developing vaccines and all the international collaboration and years of research that have gone into them,” she told HuffPost. “What we’ve accomplished with the approval of two mRNA vaccines within a year of the pandemic starting is truly amazing, and I sometimes have to stop and appreciate the progress that we’ve made.”

Siyamak Saleh (@doctor.siya)

https://www.tiktok.com/@doctor.siya/video/6995602463004904705?sender_device=pc&sender_web_id=7020461677082609158&is_from_webapp=v1&is_copy_url=0

Siyamak Saleh, a primary health care provider in South Africa, joined TikTok at the beginning of the pandemic to create fun, silly videos with his daughter. Soon after, he realized he could use the platform to inform people. He was already fielding so many questions from friends and family about COVID symptoms, treatment options and prevention, he figured he might as well share his responses on the app.

Since then, Saleh has collaborated with organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF — a dream come true for a doctor like him.

“Besides that, it’s helpful to know that my videos are having a positive impact in the fight against the vaccine misinformation,” he said. “It motivates me to continue my mission to demystify the vaccine and help as many people as possible.”

Benjamin Schmidt (@DocSchmidt)

@docschmidt

Getting vaccinated stops the spread of covid. #covid19 #vaccine

♬ original sound – DocSchmidt

Benjamin Schmidt, a gastroenterology fellow based in St. Louis who is board-certified in internal medicine, uses his TikTok to do skit humor (it is TikTok, after all), break down GI terminology and unpack misconceptions about the COVID vaccine. His big mission, he said, is to educate vaccine holdouts.

“In some cases it’s willful ignorance that keeps people from getting vaccinated, but unfortunately, in many cases, it’s difficult to blame the individual because they were the victim of misinformation on social media,” he told HuffPost. “As someone with a social media presence myself, this has prompted me to post content attempting to dispel the rampant misinformation, and answer questions for the vaccine-hesitant who do not know who to trust.”

Erica Wigdor (@doctordiaries)

https://www.tiktok.com/@doctordiaries/video/6918058545653058822?sender_device=pc&sender_web_id=7020461677082609158&is_from_webapp=v1&is_copy_url=0

Erica Wigdor, an internal medicine specialist based in Florida, gives her 109,000 followers behind-the-scene glimpses into doctor life and updates about the COVID vaccine by way of lip-syncing and dancing videos. 

When the COVID vaccine was first made available to health care providers earlier this year, Wigdor made a great video walking viewers through the vaccination process and explaining what they could expect.

“Someone told me that because of my videos, she felt more confident to get vaccinated while pregnant and knew she was doing the right thing for herself and her baby,” she told HuffPost. “Just knowing I am helping people make the right decision for themselves means the world to me.”

Christina Kim (@christinaaaaaaanp)

@christinaaaaaaanp

monoclonal antibody therapies are NOT a replacement for vaccines. Don’t rely on them to save you when you may not meet criteria anyway #covidvaccine

♬ original sound – CHRISTINA NP

Christina Kim is a nurse practitioner based in Massachusetts with over 341,000 followers. In her no-nonsense, conversational explainers, Kim has covered everything from why monoclonal antibody therapy is no substitute for the vaccines to when you’ll be able to get your booster shot.

Austin Chiang (@austinchiangmd)

https://www.tiktok.com/@austinchiangmd/video/6999432966413815045?sender_device=pc&sender_web_id=7020461677082609158&is_from_webapp=v1&is_copy_url=0

Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, joined TikTok in 2019, before the pandemic hit. But now, Chiang is using the platform to break down medical myths, including ones about COVID. (Here he is explaining why it’s a bad idea to take ivermectin, a drug often used for deworming livestock that has gained traction as a supposed coronavirus treatment, despite the Food and Drug Administration warning against its use for that purpose.)

“Creating on TikTok has allowed me to showcase my personality and bring the public closer to medicine, which is often inaccessible to the public for patient privacy reasons,” said Chiang, who’s also chief medical social media officer at Jefferson Health. “I feel physicians are often seen as intimidating, unapproachable and robotic. With how much distrust there is in health care, humanizing the profession has become increasingly more important.”

Morgan McSweeney (@dr.noc)

Morgan McSweeney is a scientist who works on the development of monoclonal antibody-based therapeutics for respiratory infectious disease — influenza, RSV and COVID-19

If you’re looking for someone to deliver COVID virus and vaccine updates in a cool, calm manner, he’s your doc. On his @dr.noc page, McSweeney debunks COVID myths about infertility and assures viewers that wearing masks will not lead to carbon dioxide poisoning. 

In more recent videos, he’s delved into all things delta variant and explained why the new anti-viral pill molnupiravir appears to be so effective at reducing hospitalizations and deaths in clinical trials.

By Brittany Wong | HUFFPOST

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