Washington Post’s COVID-19 Coverage Reviewed by Bruce Brown
A former Washington Post writer looks at the current Post’s reporting
The following is Bruce Brown‘s commentary response from the Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest to an article by Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Two American coronavirus vaccines begin the last phase of testing: 30,000-person trials,” that appeared in the Washington Post on July 27, 2020.
Click here for more of Bruce Brown’s COVID-19 columns!
WOW, IT’S really exciting to see how excited everyone is about this exciting news, and all the exciting experimental whiz bang medical technology that’s gone into the exciting press release, er, story by Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Two American coronavirus vaccines begin the last phase of testing: 30,000-person trials,” that appeared in the Washington Post on July 27, 2020!
However, since the Russians completed human trials on a COVID-19 vaccine recently, it’s interesting that the Post story makes no mention of the Russian vaccine candidates, even though the race for a coronavirus vaccine is one of the biggest American / Russian technology face-offs since Sputnik!
And speaking of Sputnik, 1957 (the year the Soviets lauched Sputnik into orbit around the earth), was also the year that another deadly viral pandemic swept out of China, namely the Asian flu pandemic. Like COVID-19, the Asian flu was another novel coronavirus that may have crossed the species lines to become infectious to humans.
As pandemics, the Asian flu and COVID-19 were actually similar. Their mortality rates were virtually identical, and the Asian flu killed nearly 120,000 Americans in 1957-58, a larger percentage of the total American population than COVID-19 has killed so far in 2020.
The big difference between the Asian flu in 1957 and the coronavirus in 2020 is that thanks to Maurice Hilleman, chief of respiratory diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., the United States was able to develop and distribute an effective vaccine within six months of the first international outbreak of the Asian flu in Singapore and Hong Kong.
So if the American immunological experts were as effectively productive today as the Russians, of even as good as the Americans were nearly 60-plus years ago, they’d have delivered an effective vaccine and begun distribution LAST MONTH!
AND WHAT was Carolyn Y. Johnson thinking when she wrote in her best talking head video news on the scene prose:
Company and government officials repeatedly underscored that although the vaccine development effort is moving at record-breaking speed, safety is not being sacrificed.
“[R]ecord breaking speed”? Only if you ignore or never apprehended what the Russians did a couple weeks ago and what America did in 1957.
AND HOW about those side effects, sports fans??!!
What side effects,” you ask? Good question, but don’t ask Carolyn Y. Johnson. She never mentions the side effect issue once in her story for the Post.
And that would be fine, except that side effects ARE possible issues with one of the drugs that Carolyn Y. Johnson highlights, namely Moderna mRNA-1273.
The side effect issues were originally reported in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 14, a week before Carolyn Y. Johnson’s Post story ran:
In the highest dosage group, which received 250 mcg, 100% of participants suffered side effects after both the first and second doses.3 Three of the 14 participants (21%) in the 250-mcg group suffered “one or more severe events.”
Moderna mRNA-1273’s side effects were subsequetly the subject of a CBS-TV interview with Bill Gates that broadcast on July 23, four days before Carolyn Y. Johnson’s Post story ran.
But apparently somehow the special, dedicated Amazon Pony Express Service that the Washington Post employs to bring information to its reporters hadn’t gotten the Moderna mRNA-1273 side effect news to Carolyn Y. Johnson yet.
Still, I have to say — Carolyn Y. Johnson is such an exciting young talent!!!
— Bruce Brown
Editor, Coronavirus Vaccine & Herd Immunity Digest
Click here for more of Bruce Brown’s COVID-19 columns!
3 thoughts on “Washington Post’s COVID-19 Coverage Reviewed by Bruce Brown”
I have only seen one announcement that a vaccine has been developed in Russia: no reports on the effectiveness of that vaccine. However, this reminds me that there were early discussions about how scientists might share vaccine information instead of competing for the honors of being the first developer. WHO was proposed as a central body for sharing information. But since the U.S. withdrew from WHO, we’ve not heard much about them or their activities. The attitude in the US is we can “go it alone” and develop our own products and do it better than anyone else! (Ya right. Remember the ineffective masks, early on?). Because we (in the U.S.) seem hell bent on only using vaccines developed by U.S. companies, it seems appropriate for the reporter to provide a status report development of U.S. vaccines. Perhaps, if the reporter wants a story, the real questions should be: has anyone looked at the lobbying efforts of Phizer and Modera and promotion of the idea that only U.S. vaccine should be used and can those companies really deliver the goods. After all, Modera has never brought a product to market!
Additionally, it should be noted that the note coronavirus is called “novel” because it is different from the Asian Flu, Ebola, HIV and other viruses. Early trials with vaccines that were moderately effective against other viruses like the flu have been only marginally effective for the novel coronavirus. Early efforts to piggy-back on previously developed vacancies were not strikingly effective.
When I was idling away my time around the newsroom bulletin boards of several “great metropolitan papers,” we would have called a story like this a “blow job.”
So in those days, when someone approached the Board another reporter might casually comment, “I see so-and-so (a third reporter) blew General Motors yesterday.”
Then the first reporter would gesture to the Board, where a steaming little gift of witty goodness on the subject had recently been pinned by an anonymous member of the staff.
I think the term was partly from the posture that the reporter was forced to assume — on hands and knees before the subject of the story — and partly because stories like this have, by definition, NO TEETH!
I wonder if the Post even has a Bulletin Board anymore?
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