TNA’s enthusiastic angle falls flat

  • Melissa Meyer - 12 February 2013

The New Age has taken a puzzling angle on the findings of a TB vaccine trial that were released last week.

The results, which were published in The Lancet, garnered a considerable amount of press coverage both locally and internationally, and for good reason. The vaccine on trial, MVA85A, is the first viable candidate for TB-prevention to emerge for 90 years. The TB vaccine currently in use (BCG) was developed in the 1920s.

BCG is used in infants with limited success. The researchers behind the MVA85A trial were hoping that using their product in conjunction with BDG would offer improved protection from TB. However, after concluding their study involving close to 2800 infants, the researchers found no statistically significant benefits.

What the trial did show was that the vaccine is safe, and the study leaders suggested further investigation of the results would benefit future vaccine initiatives. (Read the full report here).

Most news reports gave some version of these basic facts; some supplemented their articles with useful contextual information. Overall, coverage in the local press has been clear and concise. 

The New Age, however, appears to have read the study results with heavily rosy-tinted spectacles. “New TB trial brings hope”, their headline proclaims. This stands in stark contrast to The Times’ “New TB vaccine disappoints scientists”.

Even more confusing is the subheading The New Age chose, which seems to suggest the trial has just been launched: “An exciting new vaccine is being tested for its efficacy on babies and children”. The article goes on to call the trial “groundbreaking” and the results “positive”.

Readers who persist beyond the hyperbolic headline and the temporally confused subheading and introduction, will find that the rest of the article actually covers the findings fairly accurately, stating that the vaccine “failed to prevent TB” and that “further tests could be conducted”.

The article concludes with a set of optimistic quotes from the researchers, stating how they would not give up their search for an effective TB vaccine and how the findings from this study could advance the search for a more effective vaccine.

This diehard spirit is the stuff we have to thank for all medical breakthroughs. It is certainly admirable and worthy of airtime. It should not, however, creep into headlines and copy in a way that leads to the confusion of scientific fact with enthusiasm. Even the most highly spirited researcher would find that utterly horrifying.

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