While many other news organizations were calling a Thailand AIDS vaccine trial a breakthrough, this story provides caveats, some skepticism, loads of context, comparisons with other vaccines and historical perspective.
You can read the criterion by criterion analysis below, but this is the way early announcements of experimental research results should be covered.
Kudos to David Brown and to the Washington Post.
At this early phase of research it’s understandable that cost wouldn’t be discussed.
It provided the outcomes in absolute terms – which we appreciate: "Of 8,197 people who got vaccine, 51 became infected in the three years after their shots. Of the 8,198 who got placebo injections, 74 became infected. While that difference — 23 infections out of more than 16,000 people studied — is significant, it could have occurred by chance."
Were any harms – besides the lack of protection in most trial participants – reported in the Thai trial? We don’t know from the story.
This is the strength of the story – by itself and in comparison with many other stories by many other news organizations.
Over and over and throughout the story, the evidence was questioned. Excerpts:
Other researchers were less sanguine about the study but did not want to be quoted by name as being skeptical when only a few details of the results have been released.
"I just think it’s too early really," said one, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for that reason. "It is in a kind of gray zone, and I think we should really get the data and look at it and see what it all means."
And there was more. You get the picture.
No disease-mongering in this story.
Interviews with Dr. Fauci of NIH, with one of the investigators, and with an unnamed skeptic.
Good job comparing this vaccine approach with other vaccines.
The experimental stage of the vaccine research is clear from the story, as when it states:
The vaccine is not licensed or being produced in large amounts. It is unlikely — but not impossible — that any country would consider it effective enough to be used as a public health measure against HIV.
The story gave lots of detail about the novelty of this approach, but questions: "How a vaccine that induces both a weak antibody response and a poor cell-mediated one can protect some people from HIV infection is the big initial mystery of this study."
It is abundantly clear that this story did not rely on a news release, but, rather, was based on enterprise journalism with context and with a historical perspective.