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More Than 50 Journalists Across Brazil Join COVID-19 Vaccine Workshop

By Sabine Righetti, Paulo Almeida and Natália Flores

It could have just been another of the many worried WhatsApp group chats COVID-19 has brought – but what resulted instead led to the recent training of dozens of journalists in Brazil, which we hope helps bring a quicker end to the pandemic’s horrific toll here.

Noticiando Vacinas NotepadDuring an after-midnight chat in September among colleagues at Agência Bori, the Instituto Questão de Ciência and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, we realized press coverage was growing on COVID-19 vaccines as development advanced. However, many journalists here in Brazil were confused on core vaccine and immunization concepts.

What is efficacy versus effectiveness? And the immune response? What do government statements or pharmaceutical company announcements mean for communities? This confusion was a need we felt we needed to address as quickly as possible.

Our organization’s connections and missions – Agência Bori provides resources and training to journalists to improve scientific press coverage in Brazil and Instituto Questão de Ciência promotes the use of scientific evidence in designing and evaluating public policies – provided us that ability to act quickly.

Zoom screenshot of participants
Participants in “Noticiando Vacinas” (“Reporting Vaccines”) included 52 Brazilian journalists from all of Brazil’s five regions.

With support from Sabin’s Immunization Advocates program, we implemented a November workshop to assist journalists in their reporting on vaccines and immunization, and specifically COVID-19 vaccine development. In short order, we recruited technical leaders to host a nine-hour virtual course with focused sessions designed for seasoned journalists interested in enhancing their understanding of the developing COVID-19 vaccine candidates, the science behind them and associated relevant sociocultural issues, such as the rise of misinformation and disinformation on vaccines.

The workshop, entitled “Noticiando Vacinas” (“Reporting Vaccines”), gathered 52 Brazilian journalists from all of Brazil’s five regions. Journalists from many of the country’s leading outlets participated, including the journalists from national daily newspapers O Estado de São PauloFolha de São Paulo and O Globo, local daily newspapers such as O PovoCorreio BrazilienseGazeta do PovoA Crítica, and news sites like El País, BBC and G1.

Zoom screenshot of participants
The nine-hour virtual course focused on understanding the developing COVID-19 vaccine candidates and relevant sociocultural issues.

National and global experts led tailored sessions backed by a package of resources on how vaccines work, the types of technology used for their production and the clinical trial and regulatory processes. We followed up with additional material to revise and expand what was presented live, which we plan to make available on Agência Bori’s website.

Several journalists who participated have let us know they have already been able to utilize the concepts from the session in their reporting on recent promising advances in COVID-19 vaccine development.

We believe in the power of journalism to inform our communities on science-related topics, and we look forward to continuing to adapt to journalists’ needs to navigate the complexities of reporting on vaccines and COVID-19.