Explainer

Principles and guidelines for reporting on Covid-19 vaccines

Here are ten useful principles for anyone reporting on Covid-19 vaccines, from communications experts new to this topic to experienced journalists.

Illustration of the Covid-19 spike protein, a vaccine vial and a pencil
Credit:

Wellcome

This time last year, there were very few articles about vaccines and vaccination in any of the world’s media. Fast forward 12 months and the situation is vastly different. During this time, a great many journalists and communicators – other than experienced health writers – have worked hard to increase their knowledge in this area, so they can ensure that what they write is timely, accurate and insightful.

The following ten principles have been gathered from respected media organisations around the world and Wellcome’s own experience in vaccines. They are designed to support anyone new to this topic, but can also act as a timely reminder to those closer to it and can sit safely alongside existing industry codes of practice and policies.

Why is this guidance important now? 

Throughout 2020, the public has relied on media and communications experts to help them understand the vaccine development process, simplify the science, and question those working in and around this area when it comes to safety and efficacy. As we move into 2021, the news agenda and conversation will continue to evolve, from being about vaccine development, to being more focused on global vaccination rollout. Each new development and stage of this journey will bring new challenges and prompt new questions, and the role of communicators and writers in helping the public understand and navigate this highly complex subject will continue to be critical if we are to successfully vaccinate the world's population.

Developments and challenges aside, it is essential we remember that Covid-19 is deadly, vaccines are one of the safest, most effective medical inventions we have and that doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals are motivated by wanting to help people.

1. Manage expectations 

2. Remember vaccination is a social norm 

3. Understand genuine concerns 

4. Beware the implications of 'false balance' 

5. Avoid triggering fear or shame 

6. Make the science accessible and relatable 

7. Be sensitive to vested interests 

8. Verify with experts when reporting data 

9. Be clear about what is not known 

10. Consider imagery 

More resources 

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