As the world eagerly awaits the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines, the United Nations has collaborated with The Vaccine Confidence Project at the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to undertake Team Halo, an initiative which aims to counter the misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines. As per a recent survey conducted by LocalCircles, 61 per cent respondents from India said that they are sceptical about COVID-19 vaccines and would prefer not to take it immediately even if it is made available by early next year. This is worrying news for scientists working to develop vaccines that will put an end to the pandemic.
Through this initiative, over 100 scientists have joined hands to tackle the issue of misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines and build confidence by busting myths and sharing information on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines on social media. Globally, the initiative is supported by scientists who are involved in the race of coronavirus vaccine development across the world’s top institutes like Imperial College London, Harvard Medical School, University of Sao Paulo, University of Barcelona and many others. In India, over 22 scientists have joined Team Halo from renowned institutes such as Institute of Medical Sciences and Sum Hospital, Bhubaneswar; PGIMER, Chandigarh; Nizams Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad; IIT Indore; Christian Medical College, Vellore; SRM Research Institute, Chennai; and Deep Children's Hospital and Research Centre, Gandhidham.
Speaking about the initiative, Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology at Christian Medical College Vellore, Chair of the Immunization Technical Advisory Group for the World Health Organisation South East Asian Region and a Team Halo contributor who works on vaccine development, clinical and laboratory evaluation of vaccines and vaccination policy said “At my institution we are studying how COVID-19 reinfection operates and I am excited about opening up the story of the search for COVID-19 vaccines for the public. People want to know about the science and stories behind the headlines, and I’m delighted to be experimenting with social media to make serious points in creative ways.”
Melissa Fleming, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications said “Rampant misinformation has undermined public trust in vaccines. Team Halo is about reclaiming that trust. These are incredible people doing exciting science as part of a global collaboration. We should be celebrating them for helping us get to the end of this awful pandemic.”
Team Halo India will also allow scientists to respond to questions from the public and directly counter vaccine misinformation and rumours spreading in parts of the internet.
Dr Shiv Pillai, Professor of Medicine and Health Sciences & Technology at Harvard Medical School, said “Science is a universal endeavour. We hear a lot about the efforts of individual countries to find a vaccine, but the reality is that this has always been a global effort. Whether it’s the international teams working in any given laboratory or the collaboration across borders since the first days of this crisis, we have been trying to stop this virus together.”
Besides India, Team Halo aims to highlight the work undertaken by scientists in the UK, USA, South Africa, Qatar, UAE, France, Spain, Peru, Canada and Brazil and create a platform for communication between the scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines and the citizens of these countries. Collectively they are producing creative, social media-friendly videos on topics such as COVID-19 vaccine science, personal experiences and reactions to COVID-19 vaccine news items. Scientists participating in Team Halo are keen to emphasise the global nature of their work and recognise the contribution made by thousands around the world.
● Team Halo is supported by the United Nations Verified Initiative, the Vaccine Confidence Project and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, Luminate, IKEA Foundation, Global Challenges Foundation and UN Foundation.
● #TeamHaloIndia videos can be found at https://www.instagram.com/teamhalo_in
● A full list of scientists from around the globe can be found at https://teamhalo.org
● ‘Halo’ refers to the ring of connected science that spans the globe