Gary Schwitzer is the founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview. He has covered health care news almost exclusively since 1973. Here is his online bio. He tweets as @garyschwitzer or as @HealthNewsRevu.
Earlier this week, a powerful opinion piece, “It Has Come To This: Ignore the CDC,” co-authored by former National Institutes of Health director Harold Varmus, was published in the New York Times. That’s on the science side.
On the PR and journalism side, it has come to this: ignore a lot of the news you hear about vaccine studies in animals. We’ve written about excited news and PR about vaccine results in monkeys and mice.
This week it was breathless PR and copycat journalism about vaccine results in Syrian golden hamsters.
It all started with a Johnson & Johnson PR news release.
The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson are working to develop a coronavirus vaccine. They published data in a journal this week claiming that their vaccine “elicited an immune response as demonstrated by neutralizing antibodies and prevented severe clinical disease – including weight loss, pneumonia and mortality – in Syrian golden hamsters.
“This pre-clinical study further validates our confidence in our SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson.
Journalists – and the public they serve – may want to wait until the Phase 3 human trials, which are planned to start this month, are completed.
Or does that even matter anymore? You probably read that the FDA commissioner talked this week about possibly approving emergency use before trials are complete.
But journalists didn’t wait. Journalists for CNBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, Yahoo.com, The Daily Mail (UK) and even some international TV news outlets all reported the Johnson & Johnson PR news release almost verbatim. Most of these stories carried no independent perspective, just what J&J had to say about its vaccine.
So, yes, it has come to this. For your own sanity and education, we advise news consumers to ignore vaccines-in-animal news and to ignore drug industry news reporting that is nothing more than stenography of drug industry PR.