Two NHS doctors on the front line in the fight against Covid-19 have taken to TikTok to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Dr Karan Raj, a surgeon with 4.3 million followers, and Dr Emeka Okorocha, who works in accident and emergency medicine and has 242,000 followers, swapped their NHS wards to spend Saturday morning answering questions, in person and online, at a pop-up vaccination centre in an east London shopping centre.
Dr Raj said it was part of a “powerhouse effort” by the NHS and TikTok to “increase the uptake of vaccines in pretty much everyone”.
As the queue grew for people getting a jab on Saturday morning, he said: “The rollout in Britain has been fantastic and fast.
“The thing with the vaccine and the pandemic is that we need as close to 100% of people vaccinated, and that means we need to try and get to every last person and encourage them to get them to take the vaccine.”
The doctors have become influencers by using their platforms to share medical information on the vaccine and other health issues with their followers.
More than half (54%) of 16 to 17-year-olds in England have had the first dose of a vaccine along with more than three-quarters (75.4%) of people aged 18 to 29. In London, nearly half of 16 to 17-year-olds have received their first dose (over 48%), according to NHS figures.
Dr Raj said: “Typically every year people talk about bed crisis, the winter flu, a higher incidence in the increase in the cold and flu virus, and in combination with Covid and the pandemic that could overwhelm hospitals if one or either are left to run riot.
“It is important that we really encourage people to take the vaccines so that we can limit hospitalisations from Covid so that if we do see a big spike in things like cold and flu, hospitals will not be overwhelmed and control this pandemic.”
Dr Okorocha, 28, said: “I feel that having worked on Covid wards and seen the devastation that Covid can cause first hand that it is my responsibility to try and use my platform to reach out and speak to people.
“We have an epidemic where a lot of information that people find for themselves on social media is not correct or may be misleading. However, if the information is coming from a health professional and they are getting their information straight from the NHS and trusted sources, people are more likely to believe it.”
He said many people have concerns about the pandemic, from those who are happy to get the vaccine, to others who do not believe Covid-19 exists, that the whole thing is a hoax and the vaccine may be harmful.
Dr Okorocha added: “My natural environment is an A&E unit in a busy hospital, but if you come here (to the shopping centre) it is good because you can just chat to people.
“When you are in a hospital you are meeting the sort of people who have to be in hospital.
“Here you have a good, large pool of different people, from different backgrounds… and you have the access to speak to all of them.”
NHS North East London described the pop-up vaccination hub as “an important day, as it always is, to try and get everyone vaccinated”.
A spokesman said: “There are still people who are unvaccinated.
“In July and August in north-east London we had over 200 people in intensive care with Covid, and over 90% of those were not fully vaccinated, so the more people we can get vaccinated and fully vaccinated the better.”
Rich Waterworth, UK and EU general manager at TikTok, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we recognised that we had an important role to play at TikTok in making sure our community could get trusted information about Covid-19 and the vaccines.
“On top of our efforts to promote authoritative information and work with trusted experts, our amazing medical creators have used our platform to enable people to make informed decisions about the vaccine.
“Keeping our community safe is a role we take very seriously and we’re proud to be supporting the NHS with this latest partnership.”