Paul Offit, M.D., speaks at CSICON in 2018. Photo by Karl Withakay (CC BY-SA 4.0)
When covering public health policy decision-making, it’s not uncommon for experts to agree on the big picture but disagree on the details — how to get there.
That’s particularly been the case when it comes to deciding which populations should be urged to receive COVID-19 booster shots. When reporters interview experts about the booster shots, it’s critical that they clarify whether the expert’s comments represent only their own opinion, an overall consensus or that of one faction within a greater quasi-consensus.
The FDA approved the updated Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines Monday, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices was deliberating on Tuesday what the public recommendations should be once shots become available.
As reporters prepare stories about these recommendations, it’s crucial they work to dispel any confusion about the boosters and provide their audience with contextual information about how booster shot recommendations are made.
Rory Staunton. Photo courtesy of End Sepsis and the Staunton family
When 12-year-old Rory Staunton cut his arm during gym class in 2012, what should have been a simple wound became a nightmare that resulted in Rory’s death.
It started when the gym teacher covered the cut with two Band-Aids without cleaning it or sending Rory to the school nurse. It continued with each doctor Rory’s parents saw who neglected to identify his symptoms of sepsis, instead diagnosing him with a stomach virus and dehydration.
In New York, in Chicago, in California, in North Texas, even overseas, COVID-19 cases are beginning to tick upward with a new variant called Eris (appropriately named for the Greek goddess of strife and discord who started the Trojan War with her golden apple). With the heat pushing people indoors and protection from vaccinations waning, it appears another fall wave is on its way just as the school year is starting.
In this late stage of the pandemic, it may feel challenging to keep COVID-19 stories fresh for a fatigued public. But COVID-19 is here to stay, so it may help to think of COVID-19 stories much as you would your annual flu stories: Even if it feels as though you’ve written it before, your audience needs the information again about how rates are trending, tips on reducing risk of infection, and what’s going on with vaccines and boosters.
Attendees at Health Journalism 2023 in St. Louis listen to a session. Photo by Zachary Linhares
Conferences can be hectic to cover, and it’s difficult sometimes to pin down the researcher or presenter you need, much less get quotes from other attendees about a particular presentation. It can be even more challenging when you’re covering a conference virtually. In either case, preparation is key, and one of the most important ways to prepare is knowing the kinds of questions you’ll be asking presenters and outside experts.