On Wednesday (9), the world press highlighted the most anticipated event of the year: the first vaccine application against Covid-19.
The image of the first person vaccinated, a 90-year-old woman in the United Kingdom, brought encouragement. Still, it is only the beginning of the path towards general immunization, which promises to be long.
The press inaugurated the second stage of strenuous coverage that, in the first months, also guided how the Brazilian population faced the virus. Brazil has sorely lacked organized official communication.
In the first stage, given the lack of transparency in public data, one of the most important feats of this information effort was creating a consortium of media outlets to monitor and publish daily the number of people infected and killed by Covid-19.
Now, with the emergence of the first vaccines against coronavirus, the main challenge presented for the press is to scrutinize the information available without thereby feeding the irresponsible message that the pandemic "is at the very end." President Jair Bolsonaro said this in a flagrant denial of the numbers (more than 180 thousand deaths), and Folha printed it in a headline on the cover of the newspaper on Friday (11).
This comes at a time when newsrooms are exhausted. The majority of news professionals are working from home and don't know if they will ever return to face-to-face work. They are also personally concerned with the disease and also with another type of virus that often affects the news profession—layoffs.
On Friday, O Globo published an interview with Carla Domingues, an epidemiologist who led the National Immunization Program from 2011 to 2019. She helped us understand how much disorganization can cost us and offered a script for questioning public authorities.
Will the vaccination strategy be federalized? Will all vaccines approved by competent bodies be incorporated into the national plan? What can we expect from the vaccines promised by the global consortium of which Brazil is a part? Even though the federal government incorporates the vaccine applied by Butantan, will there be a vaccine for everyone? How long?
What's more, how will children be vaccinated? How should parents who receive the vaccine act to send their children back to schools? When is it reasonable to expect that all groups that need to be vaccinated will get the vaccine? Why don't we have a structured vaccination plan yet?
Many of these doubts stem from the declared war between the governor of São Paulo, João Doria (PSDB), and President Jair Bolsonaro (without a party), interspersed with health effects that need to be well explained.
In this sense, trying to understand whether it is through selflessness or pure political opportunism that Doria promotes a Chinese partnership with the Butantan Institute is much less relevant. Journalism should clarify the risks embedded in plans for state vaccinations dispersed and disconnected from a federal plan or seek to explain the level of excellence of the Butantan Institute in producing a safe vaccine for an entire population.
Regarding the coronavirus coverage, it is possible to say, without running the risk of being benevolent, that the press has fulfilled its role of informing and demanding competent authorities. This is the biggest health challenge in recent history, and there is a government that still wonders if there will be demand for an effective vaccine.
Experts have warned of the possible effects of contradictory information: the good news regarding the beginning of vaccination in the richest countries may generate bad news. The increased confidence in the vaccine may lead to people taking less care in wearing a mask, social distancing, and constant hand hygiene.
Also, there is the fear and prejudice sparked by the lack of knowledge about vaccines or fueled by the purposeful misinformation spread through social networks and messaging applications. The demand for good journalism must continue.
Therefore, the press will have to behave like a big party pooper, warning that, even if there is good news, normality is still far away. This will reduce the anguish, sadness, and fatigue of the population accumulated in all these months, but they can help preserve lives.
A reporter with a specialization in economics, Flavia Lima graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.