Author Archives: Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Tips on picking good photos for vaccine stories

MTA worker getting vaccinated

Photo: NY State MTA via Flickr

Those who have known me long enough have, at some point or another, heard one of my diatribes about poorly chosen vaccine photos in the media. These photos often feature screaming babies, wincing mothers, giant needles (usually medically inaccurate) and similarly negative images that can undermine public health. While it’s not a journalist’s job to promote public health per se, we certainly need to avoid undermining it. Continue reading

How well do clinical studies take sex and gender differences into account?

Silhouette of a couple walking

Photo: meltwater via Flickr

The history of inequity in medical studies is long and harrowing, and it continues today. But at least today, there is more awareness of the history and the present-day problems that persist. For example, the Endocrine Society recently released a scientific statement demanding more research into sex differences for the sake of public health.

The fact that males and females — not to mention individuals who do not identify as either binary category — do not respond the same way to different diseases, drugs and other interventions has been a relatively new development in the history of clinical trials. As recently as 1977, women of childbearing age were explicitly excluded by the FDA from phase 1 and 2 drug trials. In practice, that often extended to phase 3 trials and other types of studies for various reasons. Continue reading

New tip sheet helps you find sources during virtual conferences

Photo: Roy Blumenthal via Flickr

As someone who was used to covering multiple medical conferences in person each year, 2020 was a big shift. I had to adapt to covering conferences virtually.

On the one hand, it was great: I got to sit in my home, eat my own (far less expensive) food, and watch many of the presentations on my own time instead of racing from one end of a convention center to another. Continue reading

Pfizer lays out timeline for its COVID-19 vaccine and a new flu vaccine

Vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

Photo: Arne Müseler via Flickr

In a teleconference announcing the company’s first-quarter 2021 earnings earlier this month, Pfizer laid out its timeline for when different versions of its COVID-19 vaccine may become available for various populations. The company also said it is working on two approaches for an mRNA-based flu vaccine (similar technology as the COVID-19 vaccine), with plans to run clinical trials in the third quarter.

By the end of May, the New York City company expects to submit a biologics license application (BLA) asking the FDA to fully approve the vaccine rather than continue its use under an emergency use authorization (EUA). Continue reading

The wonderful new trend of ‘peer review’ threads on Twitter

Twitter screenshotI’ve used Twitter since 2008, but never has it been more vital to my work and news diet than throughout 2020, and continuing into this year. The discussions by physicians, infectious disease experts and epidemiologists about SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and the pandemic, in general, has been invaluable for a journalist covering these topics. It’s hard to pick one favorite thing about the evolution of Twitter discourse since the pandemic has begun, but definitely high on the list is the trend of peer review threads on the site.

Peer review is the process by which journal papers are reviewed for quality, clarity, usefulness and robustness by other researchers in the field before publication. Preprints are papers that have not yet gone through peer review. But anyone who covers medical research knows that simply having been peer-reviewed is no guarantee that a paper really is high-quality or deserved to be published. (Spend some time at Retraction Watch for all the evidence you need.) Continue reading