par Rowan Philp, GIJN
December 1st, 2020
A November 18 press release, claiming a safe vaccine that protects 95% of people against COVID-19, by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech was greeted with excited headlines. In fact, this was a rare case in which — in the words of health investigative reporter Serena Tinari — a corporate media release represented “the biggest news of the week, worldwide.” November saw a flurry of similar announcements related to COVID-19 vaccines. There was a separate release published November 9 from the same US-German corporate collaboration, another on November 16 with similarly promising claims by biotech startup Moderna, and one on November 23 by AstraZeneca, as global deaths in the pandemic reached about 1.4 million. What should reporters look for in such releases? We asked Tinari and Catherine Riva, co-founders of the nonprofit health watchdog Re-Check.ch and authors of the just-released GIJN guide, Investigating Health & Medicine.