1/18 This piece is why journalists w/o vaccine reporting experience shouldn’t do hot takes. Despite good intentions, its inept & irresponsible execution make it dangerous. Claiming (falsely) that public health experts are being dishonest w public isn’t how you promote a vaccine.
2/18 The author does morning newsletters for @nytimes & reviewing his work shows he hasn't reported much on vaccines or hesitancy—and it blatantly shows. He begins in the worst possible way: discussing guidance on masks. Here’s why that is such a dangerous start to his article.
3/18 A) Masks are still a very divisive article, esp politically. That’s not ok, but that makes comparing vaccine messaging to mask messaging stupidly dangerous right off. B) He’s wrong: there was more to early mask guidance than “not trusting the public.”
4/18 I’ve covered reasons for mask guidance in the past & won’t hash it out here (where it’ll go off the rails). C) His whole premise that public health experts haven’t being honest with the public in the past AND NOW aren’t again with the vaccine is RIDICULOUS AND DANGEROUS.
5/18 The headline is good: perhaps we are underselling the vaccine. But the article only gives people more reasons to be distrustful of public health. Journalists w experience in vaccine reporting know what feeds vaccine hesitancy & this article’s narrative is a big part of it.
6/18 @DLeonhardt writes “Once again, the experts don’t seem to trust the public to hear the full truth.” THAT LANGUAGE IS A DOG WHISTLE FOR ANTI-VAX ADVOCATES. I know Leonhardt isn’t dog whistling—but his ignorance in reporting on this subject is why he makes this mistake.
7/18 That sentence is verbatim all throughout anti-vaccine messaging. It’s the underlying narrative for ALL anti-vaccine advocacy. In fact, public health experts are exercising the exact caution & direct honesty that anti-vaxxers have claimed is absent from vaccine messaging.
8/18 The very thing @DLeonhardt is criticizing public health experts for is the very thing they’ve learned to do from years of research into vaccine hesitancy. THEY’RE ACTIVELY AVOIDING MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES OF THE PAST—AND LEONARDT IS IGNORANTLY CRITICIZING THEM FOR IT.
9/18 What we’ve needed for yrs re vaccines is evidence-based messaging. Now we finally have it: clear communication on benefits, risks & limits of fantastic new vaccines. He’s attacking actual progress in public health messaging—as anyone familiar w vax hesitancy research knows.
10/18 He also cites inaccurate information w a credible source. He cites @PaulSaxMD in @NEJM saying he’s unaware of any vaccine that prevents disease but not infection. I know 4 off the top of my head & ANYONE who’s reported on vaccines knows the most obvious: pertussis.
11/18 Thx to fantastic research by Nicola Klein, Tod Merkel & others (and loads of my past reporting), the pertussis vaccine is well known to prevent disease but not infection. Same with influenza, pneumococcal & rotavirus vaccines.
12/18 Since @DLeonhardt spoke to @DrPaulOffit, developer of rotavirus vaccine, you’d think he’d have asked him abt rotavirus vaccine limitations. That's what I did before this thread bc I have a long-standing source relationship w Offit—bc I've reported for a decade on vaccines.
13/18 Since pertussis, influenza & pneumococcal are all respiratory, there’s good reason not to say the Covid vaccine will prevent transmission until we *actually have data to say so.* The worst thing we can do is suggest it does, find out it doesn’t—and lose public trust.
14/18 Also 95% effectiveness does *not* “understate” the effectiveness. In reality, real-life effectiveness is often lower than efficacy (which @DLeonhardt would have known if he’d read my @AHCJ piece to journalists on the nuances of vaccine effectiveness) healthjournalism.org/blog/2020/10/k…
15/18 Here’s what we know abt Covid vaccines: they’re very safe. They have some anaphylactic reactions that have been well managed & caused no deaths. They’ve been extremely effective in clinical trials. We expect the same in real life. We don’t know if they prevent transmission.
16/18 The final italicized paragraphs in Leonhardt’s piece are pretty good messaging. And they ARE what public health experts are conveying. But they’re doing it smartly, relying on research about vaccine hesitancy & using evidence-based communication to build public trust.
17/18 @DLeonhardt, on the other hand, is undermining public health by framing his “trust how great the vaccine is” message in the context of claiming that experts aren’t being honest with the public. I genuinely don’t know a better way to give anti-vaccine advocacy oxygen.
18/fin I’ll have a blog post at AHCJ coming soon on this bc I’m so frustrated w vaccine hot takes from journalists who lack experience & knowledge abt vaccine reporting. The stakes are high for irresponsible, ignorant reporting: harming public health. healthjournalism.org/blog/2019/03/w…
adding 19/ I should add: the quotes from @DrPaulOffit @ashishkjha @PeterHotez & @AaronRichterman
are great. All are spot on & cld have been well used in a thoughtful article about how we're underselling the vaccine—in the hands of a reporter who understands the vaccine landscape.
Please unroll @threadreaderapp
20/ Here is the promised AHCJ article. I wanted to go more in depth about how we *should* discuss vaccines & prevention of transmission, but it was already too long, so that’ll have to wait for another piece.


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More from @tarahaelle

18 Nov 20
I. Am. Livid. By the time I finish this tweet story abt my beloved alma mater @utaustin, you may be too. I am normally a proud Longhorn (‘00, ‘12), Texas Scholar & @texasexes lifetime member. But tonight I am disgusted, appalled & ashamed. This event was held yesterday. 1/n
This isn’t just a random club having a meal. The Forty Acres Scholars are the cream of the crop, the best of the best. The program grew out of Texas Scholars, the most prestigious @TexasExes scholarship at @UTAustin when I attended. Texas Scholars go on to great things. 2/n
Texas Scholars go on to be teachers, ace lawyers, entrepreneurs, NFL coaches, cancer researchers, nonprofit founders—and those are just some of my friends from when we were in Texas Scholars together. @TexasExes Forty Acres Scholars grew from that program. 3/n
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9 Aug 20
@SaskiaPopescu @jeromeusa @ShellyMBoulder It’s perfectly w/in epidemiologists’ lanes to say clinical trial evidence is needed before we can say HEPA filters actually reduce transmission/cases. No one’s questioning whether they improve indoor air quality. The ? is whether they prevent COVID cases. Can’t say w/o trials.
@SaskiaPopescu @jeromeusa @ShellyMBoulder Engineers’ lane is about what diff filtration systems do/don’t do wrt affecting particles in the air. Epidemiologists’ lane is about whether those changes to air particles actually results in any significant change to transmission of the actual disease. You need trials to know.
@SaskiaPopescu @jeromeusa @ShellyMBoulder Sure, would be great to replace all indoor systems (schools, offices, etc) w HEPA filters to improve overall indoor air quality, independent of Covid. But for places deciding on filtration SPECIFIC to Covid, it’s intellectually dishonest to say it’ll reduce cases until it’s shown
Read 5 tweets

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