Even when the world’s death toll surpassed 2 million by the middle of January, individuals in several of the hardest-hit nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, began to roll up their sleeves and receive life-saving injections.
The year began with a lot of hope. Vaccines were available all throughout the world.
The rollouts were bumpy at times, with production issues delaying delivery and wealthier nations receiving the majority of the vaccines. However, in February, the number of instances began to drop dramatically, indicating that a return to normal was on the horizon.
The year started with an immense sense of hope because the vaccines were just beginning to roll out. Not only did one vaccine work, several different kinds worked and they worked incredibly well. It was a huge scientific achievement. And at first the story was about demand, how many people desperately wanted to get their shots while multiple companies were struggling to increase supplies of different vaccines made in different ways in different countries.
Then there was delta. As a result of too many individuals being exposed, a highly transmissible strain of the virus swept the globe. Some people never had access to vaccinations, while others refused to obtain them because of widespread vaccine disinformation. The number of cases and deaths increased dramatically. Despite the availability of vaccinations, more individuals died from COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020, the first full year of the outbreak.
The surprise amid all of this hope was how quickly misinformation turned into its own epidemic. We expected some of that, of course. It is natural for people to ask questions, especially when they’ve been busy living their lives and not hanging onto every scientific development. But there was a firehose of information that required sorting the real, quality science from the baseless claims. And the amount of active disinformation was stunning. I hadn’t ever imagined having to write, “No, there are no chips inside the needles to track you.” And over time the false claims grew more sophisticated than that. So with the complexity of reporting the international rollout, at the same time, you had to address outright lies that were turning people away with potentially deadly results.
We had to find new ways to do the job. Paralleling the pandemic was an epidemic of not just misinformation but disinformation. You couldn’t just say, “Well, I fact-checked that,” and move on. There’s a public responsibility to make sure that we give every opportunity for our readers and our viewers to get the right information, to get the facts. Because the facts are critical not just to making choices about vaccines and other safety measures for yourself or your family, but to ending the pandemic.
So the challenge was figuring out how to tell the story again, and again and again and be fresh and you know, maybe try different ways that might get people’s attention.