An “infodemic” of misinformation is happening on a scale that could prolong the pandemic and obliges doctors and scientists to communicate evidence-based advice, according to a leading campaigner, Dr Bnar Talabani.
Writing for The National, Dr Talabani said as well as the providing medical care and new treatments in the pandemic, healthcare professionals need to work together to provide accurate coronavirus information to the public.
She took a public stand over comments by Steve James, a London doctor who spoke out last week about his right not to be vaccinated.
“People have the right to choose to get vaccinated or not, but nobody has the right to put others at risk, least of all healthcare staff who are entrusted with the health of the most vulnerable in our society,” she wrote. “The doctor who challenged Sajid Javid is not an immunologist and most likely lacks understanding of the evidence on vaccination. However, anti-vaxxers have branded him a hero and the damage is done.
“Unfortunately, most healthcare professionals are not scientifically trained and, as a result, some have either knowingly or unknowingly spread misinformation, further perpetuating this issue,” she said.
Dr Talabani is a former child refugee who travelled from Iraq to gain sanctuary in the UK where she became an immunology scientist, and is emerging as one of the boldest voices countering misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines.
She was named in the UK’s New Year’s Honours List, having come to attention with her high profile campaigning. She works as a hospital doctor and immunology scientist at Cardiff University and is prominent in Welsh medical circles. During the pandemic, she became known for her TikTok videos aimed at dissecting myths about the virus.
Born in 1988 in northern Iraq to a Kurdish family which was steeped in the Kurdish resistance against dictator Saddam Hussein, Dr Talabani’s early years were marred by war.
As a toddler, she was forced to flee her home along with her mother and 9-month-old brother and other relatives. Her father and grandfather stayed in their homeland to fight.
After the Gulf War, former US president George W Bush had told Iraqis to “put Saddam aside” which he said would open the door for the oil-rich country to be accepted “back into the family of peace-loving nations”. His comments emboldened the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south and led to almost simultaneous uprisings against the oppressive regime.
Dr Talabani and her relatives were among the thousands of Kurds forced to flee into neighbouring Iran for safety, while her father and grandfather stayed behind to fight.
In 1996, the Talabanis took flight once again after Hussein made a dash to retake control of Kurdish-populated northern Iraq. After seeking sanctuary in Syria, they were recognised as refugees and welcomed to the UK.
She went on to secure a place in medical school and now a works as a kidney and transplant hospital doctor and immunology scientist at Cardiff University. She also works as a guide for Team Halo, a global group of scientists and healthcare professionals working to dispel misinformation about Covid.
Many of her TikTok videos aiming to break down myths about the virus and vaccines have gone viral.