Vaccine News

Newspapers must show importance of vaccination without half-truths or dubious titles

On Wednesday (3), a note in the Painel section published on the Folha website said that "Doctor from the newly vaccinated Corinthians is in the group contaminated in Covid-19 outbreak at the soccer club".

A day earlier, a call from UOL on social media warned that "Ambulance worker gets Covid-19 after taking a second dose of vaccine."

Some readers did not forgive. "Everything to gain some likes. Negotiators are grateful," said an internet user. "But the vaccine does not save people?" asked another sarcastically.

Unlike the UOL tweet, the Painel's note was careful to put in the title that the doctor had recently been vaccinated—indicating to the reader that the immunized body did not have time to build defense against the virus or that the person was already infected when he was vaccinated.

On the website, UOL expanded the title ("Ambulance worker gets covid after taking the 2nd dose of the vaccine; Butantan explains"), suggesting that the story was more complex than it seemed.

To produce information about life in the pandemic, the vaccine is the new mask: as the vaccination progresses, explanations about how vaccines work are being unraveled by the press, as well as with social distance, hand hygiene, and ineffective treatments.

Experts heard by the column say that the press needs to show that vaccination is crucial for controlling the pandemic, without dubious titles.

How does one draw attention to these unusual cases without fueling misinformation and making the reader think vaccines are ineffective or even dangerous?

With so much news available, the titles increasingly seek to attract the reader's interest from exceptional events, such as those who have been vaccinated and then infected.

With vaccination advancing (albeit at the speed of a sleepy turtle), these cases should gain more visibility because they draw the attention of an audience anxious for safety - and of a group that tries to prove that its unfavorable opinion about the immunizer is the correct one.

The challenge is to say in a few lines that we can get sick even after taking the vaccine without giving the wrong impression that the vaccine does not work.

Carlos Orsi, editor-in-chief of the magazine Questão de Ciência, says that the solution to the headlines on newly vaccinated infected people is not trivial.

"I would put in the title that the Corinthians doctor took Covid-19. And I would put the information that he probably got contaminated between the two doses of the vaccine for the subtitle or the body of the story. I know it is heresy to recommend it to a journalist to cool a title [remove the element of greatest attraction from it], but, given the current situation, maybe these things should be considered before publishing," says Orsi.

There is also deliberate misinformation. On Wednesday (3), readers asked Agência Lupa to check out a video in which Ana Paula Henkel, a commentator for Radio Jovem Pan and a former volleyball player, talks about alleged adverse effects of vaccines and deaths of newly immunized people.

According to Lupa, there is no evidence that people died after being vaccinated against Covid-19. The data presented by the commentator refer to suspicious adverse events reported to the CDC, the US Government's Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "It is not possible to say that the cause of the deaths and symptoms was the vaccine since other existing diseases may have caused side effects and the numbers may be wrong or incomplete," says Lupa.

The topic is so complex that even good news can hinder the immunization effort.

On Thursday (4), a Folha report said that Britons over 80 are leaving confinement after the first dose of the vaccine, when protection is still low, which would signal, according to an expert, that the government should reflect on it "from the risk of messages about the success of the vaccination campaign, which can convey a false sense of security concerning Covid-19".

This recommendation also applies to the press, especially in Brazil, where it is often the main source of information. The Ministry of Health does not always offer reliable data.

On January 21, 2020, the word "coronavirus" appeared on the cover of Folha's print edition for the first time. A small headline in the lower right corner warned that an unknown virus had caused the fourth death in China.

With crowded hospitals, death records, and an insufficient number of vaccines, the issue will remain central for a long time. As Folha columnist Silvio Almeida said, if the government kisses death by force, the press must continue courting science and remain strongly committed to information.

Flavia Lima: A reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon