Tag Archives: trials

What to look for in COVID-19 vaccine trials

Coronavirus CG Illustration

Photo: Yuri Samoilov via Flickr

As various COVID-19 vaccine candidates make their way through clinical trials — see this nice update on where things stand from Helen Branswell at STAT — journalists need to be scrutinizing the findings as closely as possible when reporting on them. But what do you look for?

The questions I include from this piece from Elemental, primarily aimed at laypersons, are a good starting point. Then, getting more detailed, look to this brief thread of tweets from Vinay Prasad, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Continue reading

Study says older adults vastly underrepresented in COVID-19 trials

Elderly couple wearing masks

Photo: Babette Plana via Flickr

Approximately 80% of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States have been among people 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But a research letter published online in JAMA Internal Medicine on Sept. 28 reported that more than half of COVID-19 clinical trials were “at high risk for excluding older adults,” and none included seniors as part of vaccine trials early in the pandemic.

Despite a National Institute of Health policy mandating the inclusion of older adults in appropriate clinical trials, older adults were left out more often than not as scientists struggled to get a handle on the coronavirus. Researchers found that 53% of trials they reviewed did not include those older than 65 for a variety of reasons, including compliance concerns, co-morbid conditions or technology requirements. About one in four of the trials reviewed by the researchers included an age “cutoff” that would exclude adults age 65 to 80, as UPI reported. Continue reading

Protect readers’ time and bandwidth from unpublished trials

Photo: Thomas Leuthard via Flickr

Every week for years, I’ve received press releases about studies starting up. This one looking at heart disease, that one about a common cancer, and still another on a rare childhood disease. I’ve written about precisely zero of them. When the public relations person follows up, I’ll explain: “I write primarily about peer-reviewed research. Let me know when it’s published.”

If you write for business, pharma or medical trade publications, there may be times when you write about the initiation of a study. Even then, it’s typically more important to wait until the study is actually underway and there’s something to say about it. And for consumer publications, I can’t think of any reason to talk about an upcoming individual study that hasn’t begun. Continue reading

Fauci’s announcement of remdesivir trial findings leaves out crucial detail

Most of the time, the most important aspect of reporting on medical research is ensuring that the coverage is accurate, precise, clear and understandable to the average reader, and includes adequate context, including cost, side effects, alternative treatments and previous data. Other times, the medium, or, rather, the literal physical setting and the framing surrounding the message, matter as much or more, as some have argued regarding Anthony Fauci’s recent announcement about the NIH trial findings on remdesivir from the Oval Office couch.

But, as Gary Schwitzer points out in his most recent blog post at HealthNewsReview.com, other details can be utterly crucial to the public’s understanding about potentially important findings about a drug, particularly during a pandemic: What a particular study was intended to do in the first place. Continue reading

Caveats about causality in medical studies linked to more accurate news coverage

Photo: Jacob via Flickr

It’s a well-worn mantra: Correlation does not equal causation. But even if we know this, is it always accurately and responsibly reflected in our stories and headlines?

It can be simpler and more elegant to say “Vodka causes sexually transmitted infections” in a headline than “Vodka consumption associated with increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.” (Note: This is not a real headline or based on a real study.) But in this made-up example, it’s laughably obvious that vodka itself does not cause STDs. Continue reading