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:
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
F. Perry Wilson
When it comes to feeling competent about understanding, interpreting and reporting on medical studies, one under-appreciated fact is that this is a long-term learning process. I first began to really understand how to make sense of medical studies at an AHCJ annual conference workshop.
Still, it wasn’t until I attended that same workshop two more times — and attended a Medicine in the Media workshop at the NIH and did some studying on my own — that I reached a point where I felt I knew what I was doing. Continue reading
If you’re a frequent user of PubMed, you have likely already noticed the new website layout and have probably noticed some differences in search options or functionality. The new PubMed was first tested in labs at the National Library of Medicine site in March of 2019 and launched officially in fall 2019, but it wasn’t formally rolled out as the default until May 2020. (The old site is still available for a little longer — at least through the end of October — here.) Continue reading
Nothing is more important during a pandemic than ensuring that the public consistently receives accurate information that they can understand. But even government websites designed with the intent to reach people with low literacy levels appear to be falling short of their guidelines for accessible text, according to an August research letter in JAMA Network Open. Continue reading