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Over 22 scientists from India join UN effort to boost public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines

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Team Halo aims to use social media to counter the misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines and build confidence by busting myths and sharing information on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines

As nations stock pile COVID-19 vaccines through advance orders and as politicians try to gain mileage out of the ‘vaccine race’, comes an initiative that seeks to unite and cooperate rather than divide and compete. 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 and build confidence by busting myths and sharing information on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines on social media.

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. 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. #TeamHaloIndia videos can be found at https://www.instagram.com/teamhalo_in

Globally, the initiative is supported by over 100 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. 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, with ‘Halo’ referring to the ring of connected science that spans the globe.

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 Immunisation 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.”

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, US, 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.

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