The viral short-form video app TikTok (which still isn’t banned, by the way) is becoming the unlikely new home for creators claiming to have first-hand experience with the covid-19 vaccine and giving expert testimonials about ongoing vaccine trials.
A search for the hashtag #CovidVaccine, which has nearly 40 million views, brings up several videos of scientists and doctors debunking misinformation campaigns about the virus in addition to participants in covid-19 vaccine trials sharing their experiences, per a weekend NBC News report.
Ashley Locke, a 29-year-old who says her trial for AstraZeneca’s covid-19 vaccine started on Nov. 16 in Nashville, Tennessee, has garnered millions of views for her videos documenting the process. A post of her receiving her first injection as part of the study has roughly 2.8 million views alone, though you might want to skip it if needles make you queasy (I definitely felt my stomach flip watching it). She won’t find out if that injection was the real vaccine or a placebo until the end of the study, but she told NBC that she’s been busy responding to the flood of questions and comments about the trial that she’s received in the meantime.
“I’ve seen people post TikToks about different journeys they’re having, like weight-loss journeys or moving to a new school and things like that, so I was, like, this vaccine trial is an interesting thing. I’ll post about that,” Locke said in an interview with the outlet. “Maybe some people will find that interesting.”
AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company that I can’t read the name of without hearing their “AstraZeneca may be able to help…” commercial catchline in my head, is co-developing the vaccine along with researchers at the University of Oxford. Their vaccine has reportedly shown to be 70% effective at protecting against the virus, though a recently revealed manufacturer error in phase III trials has raised concerns about the reliability of those results.
It’s one of three experimental vaccines that have reportedly shown promising results in recent weeks along with those developed by the biotech firms Moderna and BioNTech, the latter of which is working with drug manufacturer Pfizer.
As NBC notes, other TikTok users have also posted videos claiming to share their own covid-19 vaccine trial experiences. Experts have begun weighing in too, with doctors and scientists posting videos that debunk common misinformation about vaccines and compare the differences among some of the vaccine trials.
Dr. Kate Bredbenner, a biomedical sciences specialist with a focus in biophysics, posted a video on Nov. 11 that’s already gained 3.6 million views where she walks through how Pfizer’s experimental vaccine would affect the novel coronavirus. She told NBC that while some anti-vaxxers have been cropping up here and there to leave nasty comments, for the most part, her comment section is mostly filled with curious users just trying to learn more.
“It makes me feel so good. People are genuinely having real conversations, and people are asking questions, and I think that’s kind of magic,” Bredbenner said in an interview with the outlet.
In Locke’s video of her first injection, she said she’ll have regular check-ins and blood testing for the next two years to monitor any side effects. She told NBC that she plans to record a Q&A with doctors about the trial the next time she comes back.
“I talked to the communications director [of Clinical Research Associates]. Next time I go in, I’m going to be able to ask some of the questions I’m not able to answer. I’m going to be able to ask my doctors and hopefully have them on my videos to be a little more informative and answer some more of those scientific things that I don’t know, but still in a clear way that’s easy for our audiences,” Locke said.
TikTok did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
The coronavirus pandemic has raged on for far longer than most people anticipated, especially in the U.S. where basic science and health precautions have become political issues, so it’s no surprise that people are itching to learn how we can beat this thing. To date, there have been more than 62 million coronavirus cases and 1.4 million deaths worldwide, including more than 266,000 in the U.S. alone, per researchers at Johns Hopkins.
When you’ll actually be able to get a vaccine is another question. On Tuesday, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that a covid-19 vaccine could be distributed “soon” after it’s approved for emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, which could come as soon as Dec. 10. Pfizer announced last week that it would be seeking emergency approval for its vaccine, which appears to be 95% effective at preventing the illness according to the company’s testing. So a vaccine in time for Christmas is not entirely out of the question, but given the year 2020 has been so far, I’d take that timeline with a colossal size grain of salt.