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Threading the needle

BACKSTORY | The challenges of reporting on America’s vaccine controversy

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Carlos Osorio/AFP via Getty Images

Threading the needle
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Emma Freire spent most of the pandemic in Brazil, where she lived with her husband and three children. She watched the division fracturing America from afar but escaped much of the related emotional fallout. Taking an objective look at the controversy became one of her first assignments for WORLD. After she finished her reporting, I asked her to reflect on what she’d learned. Here’s what she told me.

What surprised you most as you reported this story? I was amazed how big the issue of adverse reactions to the vaccine has become. This feels like a dam that’s about to burst. Whenever I mentioned I was writing a story about COVID-19 vaccines, people would immediately start telling me about either their own adverse reaction or someone else’s. I applaud Dr. Gregory Poland for trying to bring this discussion into the mainstream so that it’s healthy and data-driven. Right now, it’s mostly happening on social media, where a lot of the speculation is sketchy at best.

You interviewed two doctors who are believers but came down differently on the issue of COVID vaccines. What did that say to you with respect to the larger national debate? Gregory Poland and Jay Bhattacharya both have a strong Christian witness and give God the glory for their professional success. Poland supports COVID-19 vaccines for everyone, but Bhattacharya only recommends them for the groups most at risk. In 2021, views like Bhattacharya’s were censored. I think the vaccines would not be as controversial as they still are today if we had a more open debate. Unfortunately, silencing anyone who deviated even slightly from public health recommendations became a hallmark of pandemic policies.

WORLD readers also have different views on the necessity, efficacy, and safety of the COVID vaccines and now the boosters. How did you attempt to cover this story in a way that addresses multiple viewpoints? I kept thinking of brothers and sisters in Christ I know who took different views on the vaccines. I knew some of them would read my story and wanted to ensure they all felt I had treated their beliefs respectfully. With such a controversial topic, I was mindful to constantly steer straight down the middle.

How would you characterize experts’ willingness to speak with you on this subject? Each of the doctors I interviewed, even the most pro-vaccine, seemed to welcome an honest discussion. For a while in America, you could be labeled a “science denier” for asking any questions about the vaccine. But that wasn’t the attitude of the scientists I interviewed.

Leigh Jones

Leigh is features editor for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD News Group. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.


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