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.
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.
Science Magazine reporter Jon Cohen. Photo courtesy of Jon Cohen
During the pandemic, one of my go-to sources for context was science journalist Jon Cohen. Cohen is a long-time infectious disease reporter and a senior correspondent for Science magazine. He has written more than 100 deeply reported stories about all aspects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, including how the virus impacts the body’s immune system and the global race to access vaccines.
Now that the acute phase of the pandemic is over, the story of where SARS-CoV-2 came from is gaining more prominence. Did it come from an animal? Or from a research lab? The answer remains elusive, though the greater share of evidence points to an animal.
Alison Young and her new book, “Pandora’s Gamble.” Young’s photo by Lisa V. Damico
For most of the past three years, I have been persuaded by the scientists and epidemiologists who said the assertion that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of an accident at the Wuhan Virology Institute was just a conspiracy theory. But in the past year, questions have arisen that suggest scientists may have been too quick to dismiss the idea.
That’s why I found investigative journalist Alison Young’s new book “Pandora’s Gamble” an interesting read for health journalists. In the book, Young recounts the long history of accidents and leaks at pathogen research laboratories, which she backs up with years of in-depth reporting.