It’s enough to tank the stock market, strand transcontinental travelers, hamstring a Portuguese soccer club and cause my 93 year old vaccinated mother to be hesitant about seeing her vaccinated family over Thanksgiving.
TROLL ALERT I am fully vaccinated and boostered, a firm believer that Covid 19 is the most serious pandemic we have faced in over a century and it’s not over. I don’t entertain conspiracy theories or fears of a microchip embedded in vaccines. I study and write almost exclusively about how to make complex health and science information understandable. So please troll elsewhere. Nothing here.
Back to the Omicron variant.
(I could have written this about the Delta variant.)
Omicron has scientists very concerned and thus the media is all over it. I was hoping the media, after almost 2 years, would do a better job explaining what the variant was and why we should be aware.
So far – Not So Much.
Media Parrot Science Lingo
I expect scientists and other health experts to talk science, epidemiology, spike proteins, shapeshifting, titer of antibodies, induced immunity and lots more. They rarely disappoint.
Fauci on Covid Booster:
"The booster — it basically enlarges the capacity of your immune system to recognize all kinds of different spike proteins it's never seen,"
Fauci on Omicron:
“If it looks like even at a high titer of antibody it doesn’t, then what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to change and modify what the vaccine is going to be, which you can do pretty easily.”
WHO on Omicron
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic.”
But the media I've been reviewing ( from national to local outlets East Coast and West) seem to have either no capacity to make these complex health/science issues understandable, or in some cases, I think they simply don't understand them themselves. When not just directly quoting the experts, they are almost verbatim using the same inaccessible, science language and concepts that it takes an advanced degree in epidemiology to understand.
Even a headline setting out to explain something to us is a let down.
“…Also, genetic sequencing showed it carried a large number of troubling mutations on the spike protein -- the knoblike structure on the surface of the virus that it uses to grapple onto the cells it infects. Some of those mutations were already recognized from other variants and were known to make them more dangerous, including one called E484K that can make the virus less recognizable to some antibodies -- immune system proteins that are a frontline defense against infection and that form the basis of monoclonal antibody treatments.”
It's gibberish to the average adult in the US. Let's recall ( sorry to keep repeating this stat) but less than 25% of the adults in the US can be considered "science literate".
Bravo to Dana Bash when she asked Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the Institutes of Health to explain what it meant when Moderna put out a statement last Friday saying:
"The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to acceleratethe waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity."
Too bad Dr. Collins took the question to be an opportunity to, not answer her question or teach viewers much, but rather taut the vaccine and the booster. I get it. Vaccine and Boosters - critical. Go get them.
But for the general public to understand something about this new Omicron variant - to be in some measure "IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS" when it comes to seeing Omicron as a risk, to taking protective actions, we need to understand it at the level that non-scientists can understand it.
We're almost 2 years into this pandemic and the narrative by most media outlets hasn't gotten more understandable, embraceable. We either accept that we should be contaminated by the concern scientists and the media are have, or we do something else. And we fault people for migrating to social media?
Readers - have you found media invested in explaining the science of Covid.
I found one on AP called "Explainer"
EXPLAINER: What we know and don’t know about omicron variant
By JAMEY KEATEN and MARIA CHENG
Here's just an excerpt:
"...So far, the main difference with other variants appears to be that there may be an increased risk of reinfection with omicron — in other words, that people who’ve already had COVID-19 could get reinfected more easily.
The variant appears to have a high number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people.
Some experts say that could mean that vaccine makers may have to adapt their products at some point."
Would love to hear about good, reliable, valid media sources of Omicron info.