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Vaccine engagement starts…on TikTok

We're proud to showcase this case study in our 'Vaccine engagement starts...' series, part of our wider public engagement campaign. Our hope is that, through highlighting a range of the wonderful and impactful activities our members have been carrying out, others will be inspired to begin engaging with the public on vaccines.

BSI member, Dr Faith Uwadiae is a Postdoctoral Training Fellow at the Francis Crick Institute and an Early Career Representative on the BSI Forum. She recently created a TikTok account and started sharing facts about COVID-19 vaccines through 60 second videos. Here, Faith discusses her science communication journey and learnings, and how small conversations can have a big impact in people’s lives.

TikTok – from talking science to singing

It does take a while at the beginning, but before you know it, you’re singing and dancing!

I’m part of #TeamHalo, a new initiative to celebrate the collaboration between scientists all over the world to help end the pandemic with safe and effective vaccines. Their team showed me how to use TikTok, which is pretty similar to Instagram. I’d say, if you can use Instagram, you can definitely use TikTok.

The big question I had from friends and family was “How was the COVID-19 vaccine produced so quickly?” so I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do for my first TikTok post ‘5 reasons why the COVID-19 vaccine was produced so fast and is SAFE!’. After that, I have been responding to questions that other people have asked in my videos.

For example, I showed my experience of getting the vaccine for COVID-19 in one of my TikTok videos and, afterwards, I shared an update about how I was feeling. For me it was important to show that I did not personally experience any major side effects.

Focussing on facts rather than fears

I don’t work on COVID-19 but I understand how the immune system works and I believe it’s important that we get accurate information out there. My TikTok videos are there for people who want information about COVID-19 vaccines. They might have questions or concerns so I’m there to provide answers based on scientific evidence so they can make their own decision.

What I would recommend is focussing on facts, rather than fears. There is a lot of misinformation and myths on social media, so I try to communicate the facts and explain the basic science behind vaccines and COVID-19. Here are some of my videos:

  • Fact 1: Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Watch here.
  • Fact 2: How do vaccines work? By giving your body a cheat code! Watch here.
  • Fact 3: COVID-19 vaccines work by manipulating the central dogma of biology. Watch here.

The BAME community & allies

I have also been discussing vaccine hesitancy within BAME communities. We know that individuals from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are disproportionally affected by the disease, but they are also more likely to have concerns about whether or not to get vaccinated.

I believe that more community-led engagement is needed to reach those communities. The systems and institutions in place aren’t trusted so messages around vaccines need to come from a trusted source within the community.

Allies can also do their part by actively listening and coming from a place of understanding. People need to feel heard and cared about – don’t go into the conversation trying to convince them to get the vaccine, just to have a chat like you would do with your family and friends. The BSI ‘Vaccine engagement starts at home’ campaign can really help with this because it offers resources you can use to talk to those around you.

Small conversations, big impact

Sometimes, as scientists, we’re so far away from how our research impacts society that we think we can’t do anything to help. But we can really make positive change! We should never underestimate what we can do with our background and knowledge – a small conversation can have such a big impact in people’s lives.

Being a BSI Forum member has given me the opportunity to expand my soft skills while learning about policy, public engagement, science communication and more. You can gain so much from spending some time away from the bench – why not give it a go?

Follow Faith on Twitter @faith_uwadiae and TikTok @dr_faith_uwadiae

Are you a BSI member involved in public engagement around COVID-19 vaccines? We'd love to hear from you! Please get in touch with our Marketing & Communications Manager, Teresa Prados, to share your experience as part of our new case study series 'Vaccine engagement starts...'.

Click here to find out more about the BSI's public engagement campaign Vaccine engagement starts at home. We’re always looking for members to help bring the expert immunology voice so if you'd like to get involved with our public engagement work, don't hesitate to contact our Public Engagement Manager, Erika Aquino.