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.

An example of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy reporting done right


Photo: Self Magazine via Flickr

I’ve written previously on Covering Health about the potential harms of reporting on surveys and polls about people’s intent to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In late September, the FDA had not yet authorized any vaccines, so any poll or survey questions were theoretical. Now that vaccines are in distribution, however, does that change things?

Well, yes and no. At that time, I also wrote that vaccine hesitancy wasn’t what we needed to worry about— instead, it was access and equity. Continue reading

In memoriam: Journalists remember Sharon Begley as a giant in science journalism

Sharon Begley

Photo: Courtesy of StatSharon Begley

Sharon Begley, a science journalist who was as well known for her kindness and generosity as she was for her phenomenal reporting, passed away from lung cancer on Jan. 16. Though she was reporting for Stat at the time of her death, her career of 43 years also included work – and countless awards – while at Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

Described by one previous mentee as “brilliant, kind, hilarious, wise,” Begley reported until the very end, filing her final story five days before her death, as her Stat colleague, Eric Boodman, wrote in his moving obituary of this “science writing royalty.” If there was any question how far-reaching and influential her work was, consider that among the outpouring of condolences for her passing were words from NIH Director Francis Collins, physician Atul Gawande, the research institute Fred Hutch, and the National Center for Science Education. Her words could be so enchanting one of her quotes has even been misattributed to Carl Sagan. Continue reading

Reporting responsibly on COVID-19 vaccines requires knowing the research landscape

Coronavirus CG Illustration

Photo: Yuri Samoilov via Flickr

A new New York Times perspective piece on whether we’re underselling the various COVID-19 vaccines had public health Twitter abuzz on Jan. 18, with responses ranging from high fives to intense critique. My reaction was in the latter camp. The points I made in this thread (unrolled here) are essential to consider for all journalists reporting on all vaccines and for this virus in particular. I’ve touched on these issues multiple times in the past, particularly the importance of knowing:

Continue reading

Toolkit offers COVID-19 vaccine story ideas, survey findings on vaccine attitudes

One of the video resources available at the NAB-RJI Vaccine Education Toolkit.

Image & video: NAB-RJI Vaccine Education ToolkitOne of the video resources available at the NAB-RJI Vaccine Education Toolkit.

Journalists reporting on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine have a new tool to guide their coverage: a Vaccine Education Toolkit that includes survey results on audience attitudes and needs, B-roll and multimedia, webinars, recommended experts and tips on reaching specific audiences. This resource may be a helpful complement to the AHCJ’s extensive resources on reporting about the pandemic.

The bilingual website was developed by three groups: the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). RJI is a part of the Missouri School of Journalism and the NACDS is an industry trade group representing traditional drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchants with pharmacies. Continue reading

Pfizer vaccine news sounds great — but it’s still data by press release


Photo: Self Magazine via Flickr

Pfizer made waves Monday with its announcement that its COVID-19 vaccine, developed with partner BioNTech, is “strongly effective,” with a reported efficacy of over 90%. The news was so highly touted that I woke up to multiple texts from friends about it, and it definitely sounds exciting.

The problem? That 90% is almost the only number we know because the company didn’t release additional data for others to read and interpret. Once again, these “extraordinary” findings, as Pfizer’s senior vice president described them to Stat News, were shared as “data by press release,” a worrisome trend during a pandemic. Continue reading

While still an expensive therapy, doctors see promise in harnessing a patient’s immune system to fight cancer

Electron micrograph of two cytotoxic T cells (red) attacking an oral squamous cancer cell (white), part of a natural immune response.

Photo: NIH Image Gallery via FlickrElectron micrograph of two cytotoxic T cells (red) attacking an oral squamous cancer cell (white), part of a natural immune response.

If you write anything about cancer treatment, it’s nearly impossible to avoid writing about immunotherapy. But reporting on immunotherapy can quickly become complex, confusing and overwhelming. A new AHCJ tip sheet on cancer immunotherapy can help you to report effectively and appropriately on the topic.

The therapy is exactly what it sounds like. Cancer immunotherapy works to recruit the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer instead of using chemotherapy to kill cancer cells directly. Continue reading