Get prepared now to cover the COVID-19 vaccine

About Bara Vaida and Tara Haelle

Bara Vaida is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Tara Haelle is medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon of science and research and helping them translate evidence into accurate information.

The race for a COVID-19 is heating up. At least two COVID-19 vaccine makers ― Pfizer and Moderna ― may have enough clinical trial data to begin seeking U.S. regulatory approval in December, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Somewhere around December, you will start to see companies with enough data… so they can move forward and apply for emergency-use authority from the FDA,” he told host Dr. Howard Bauchner at a Journal of the American Medical Association webcast on Oct. 28. “Then it could be granted. It could be January, or it could be later.”

A January 2021 timeframe for an approved vaccine may be a surprise for some Americans since President Trump said at the end of September that a vaccine was just “a few weeks away.” But his push for a vaccine before election day has run up against the reality of science. Six of the companies in which the U.S. has invested to produce a COVID-19 vaccine have yet to complete their clinical trials.

Still, data in the early stages of the companies’ clinical trials have been promising enough that Fauci has said he believes a vaccine will be available to Americans in 2021. To reassure those who might be worried about the vaccine’s safety, he added that he would personally review the safety and efficacy data from the drug companies’ trials. If he felt confident about both, he would receive the vaccine.

“If … the efficacy looks good, and the safety data are sound, which they will be, then I would not hesitate to take that vaccine myself,” he said.

With at least another few months before an approved vaccine may be a reality, now is the time for journalists to get up to speed on all aspects of COVID-19 vaccines. What you should know includes:

  • What types of vaccines are companies testing?
  • How does the U.S. vaccine approval process work?
  • How does the federal government plan to distribute it?

AHCJ core topic leaders Tara Haelle and Bara Vaida have created an extensive tip sheet to help get you up to speed for reporting responsibly on this topic. For the latest developments on the vaccine candidates and other COVID-19 issues, follow us on Twitter at @tarahaelle and @barav, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email: tara@healthjournalism.org and bara@healthjournalism.org.

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