June 13, 2024
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‘Shira’s Got the Scoop 2.0’ Fights the Pandemic on Clubhouse

What happens when a tech publicist moderates a heated, yet immensely informative, discussion on COVID? Why, you get the scoop, of course. Or rather, Shira gets the scoop. The scoop 2.0, that is!

And so it began, when Teaneck resident Shira Weiss, a newly-minted member of the wildly popular Clubhouse app, found herself raptly listening to a discussion on COVID, where a cardiology fellow by the name of Dr. Siyab Panhwar was patiently and articulately educating a group of individuals who, for a variety of reasons, resisted getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Shira immediately found herself caught up in the discussion, witnessing the patient demeanor of the physician who, while careful not to dole out medical advice, provided invaluable and accurate information to an audience who clearly needed to hear an intelligent and engaging voice of reason. Dr. Panhwar carefully answered questions not only from anti-vaxxers, but also from people who were simply reluctant to get the vaccine based on misinformation about COVID in general, and misleading statements about disputed treatments involving Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

No stranger to the wealth of COVID falsehoods and myths that permeate the internet, Dr. Panhwar has been crusading against this misinformation via social media for a while now. A prolific TikTok’er whose handle is @siyabpanhwarmd, Dr. Panhwar regularly utilizes the immensely popular platform to effectively (and often humorously) educate his 250K followers about COVID.

In one particularly very entertaining Twitter post, Dr. Panhwar @mpanhwar92 cautions against using Ivermectin, imploring the public to ”Please leave it for the horses that need it.”

Shira had seen for herself firsthand how many people there were, even within Jewish communities, that believed in these controversial treatments and vaccine falsehoods. “Unfortunately, I have heard about so many people who were hesitant about the vaccine, or spreading misinformation about COVID.” She was especially troubled by the massive mailing that went out over the summer spreading misinformation about “vaccine injury.” But after hearing Dr. Panhwar speak, inspiration struck, and she decided that she would assemble an impressive roster of doctors to address topics related to COVID, and in the process hopefully, dispel a few myths and falsehoods. So she set out to change all that, one Clubhouse discussion at a time.

Dr. Panhwar introduced Shira to some of the doctors who she now regularly calls on to take part in her discussions, including ER physician Dr. Catherine Johnson, ER physician Dr. Paul Toote and a general practitioner in Sydney named Dr. Ziad Basyouny.

Shira is quick to point out that she was not the first person to come up with the idea. If you go on the Clubhouse app you are sure to find many more COVID discussions. But that didn’t stop her, and she quickly amassed a group of highly respected and established professionals consisting of pediatricians, cardiologists, OB-GYNs, nurses, scientists and gastroenterologists from all over the world. Armed with this roster of brilliant and fierce experts, she began to organize a series of COVID education discussions.

“The doctors are my guests of honor and they are my speakers. They are my medical experts… and these are all people I have vetted…and now I have a regular group that I chat with and come up with ideas.”

But, she stresses, “Nobody gives any medical advice.” When participants ask medical questions specific to them, they are advised to consult their own regular medical professionals.

“The ultimate goal is just to inform people as issues arise…to get people answers.” Naturally, there are those who come into these discussions for the sole purpose of stirring up trouble, but that doesn’t seem to faze Shira one bit. “People do come into these rooms and sometimes they are very anti-vaccine and have their own agendas…we have our regular trolls that come in.” But she makes sure to keep people in line by asking the initial questions and initiating the conversations. She carefully conducts her research, drafts and outline and calls on people. “I just moderate and make sure we’ve got people asking good questions…I’m the Chris Wallace of the discussions,” she jokes.

“What I discovered on Clubhouse is that there are so many communities that have a distrust of medicine. Sometimes because of a lack of access in some communities, but also a lack of trust in science.” She said that certain cultures are reluctant towards vaccinations due to past trauma. But, she says, “When you get to know certain cultures you develop this sensitivity and understand why there is distrust.”

Shira’s rooms have been garnering a lot of buzz. Even Edward Deitch, head writer and supervising producer at NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, often joins them. She said he comes in and asks great questions, adding tremendous value to the conversations.

Shira admits that there is no set time for when she holds the discussions; rather, as topics arise, she organizes a Clubhouse room. For instance, one conversation was titled “COVID Hotspots and Calm Areas.” Other discussions have delved into the Delta variant or returning to in-person school in places where masking is not mandated.

Oftentimes, the discussions will result in the desired, gratifying effect. “I got some messages from people saying, ‘I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get the vaccine, but, you know, after listening to this room, it really helped me. I’m going out to get it.’”

She says that was what she really set out to do. Her goal is not to necessarily convince people to get the vaccination, but rather correct a lot of the misinformation, especially for people who were scared and on the proverbial fence. “I can understand that if you are hearing all this crazy misinformation before you get the shot…I just remember reading these crazy things on the internet, and the more you read, the scarier it sounds.” She wants people to stop listening to the “crazy voices” on the internet and just listen to what doctors and scientists are saying.

Be sure to follow @shiraweiss to find out when the next Clubhouse COVID discussion takes place.

By Ronit Mershon

 

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