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The doc is on TikTok: how physicians are using social media to build vaccine confidence

With conspiracy theories, myths and misinformation pervading social media, physicians are turning the tables and using their personal social media accounts to educate people about COVID-19 vaccines.

“We have an important role as health advocates,” said Dr. Gigi Osler, an ear, nose and throat surgeon based in Winnipeg. “If you have an audience who isn’t watching the 6 pm news … how are they getting their information? For a lot of people, it’s social media.”

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Dr. Osler, a past CMA president, has amassed nearly 19,000 followers on TikTok, a platform that has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Her short videos — posted to songs by artists like Drake, Twista and Beyoncé — are proving popular and boast more than 145,000 likes combined.

In one video, she outlines three reasons to get a COVID-19 vaccine: vaccines work, the benefits outweigh the risks, and they are giving us a chance to end the pandemic.

@drgigiosler

Get ##VaccinatedFor ##covid19. This Is Our Shot

♬ original sound - Dr Gigi Osler

Her message is getting attention, with comments such as “Let’s work together to beat the virus!” Yet Dr. Osler acknowledges not everyone is positive.

“Social media can be a dark place,” said Dr. Osler, who is also active on Twitter and Instagram. “But I try to use my platform to educate, inform and inspire.”

Dr. Osler isn’t alone in using social media to share medical information. In December, Dr. Madhav Sarda, a child psychiatrist in Saskatoon, saw his explanatory Twitter thread on messenger RNA vaccines go viral, garnering 132,000 retweets and 294,000 likes.

The engaging thread avoids medical jargon and explains why these vaccines are “kind of brilliant at a science level.”

“You’ve got memory cells in your immune system and if you run into that virus again, your memory cells say, ‘I’ve seen this asshole before.’ Your body uses its past experience to demolish the virus before it can make you sick,” he tweets.

With misinformation having an adverse affect on public health — so much so that the World Health Organization has dubbed it an “infodemic” — social media has become a battleground of sorts.

The #ScienceUpFirst campaign, launched by a group of independent scientists, health care providers and science communicators, aims to track misinformation and debunk myths online.

“We need more accurate information, presented with humility by trusted sources,” said scientist Krishana Sankar, who helps lead the initiative.

The campaign, created in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Science Centres, COVID-19 Resources Canada, and the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, continues to ramp up and gain followers across platforms by including its hashtag in posts about COVID-19.

“Medical experts are among the most trusted groups in Canada,” said Sankar. “Surveys and research consistently show this to be true, especially over this past year.”

Dr. Osler agrees health advocates — such as physicians — have an opportunity to reinforce public health advice. For those new to the social media realm though, she has a few words of wisdom: “I would urge physicians to go into it carefully and mindfully.”