Covering the Delta variant: Describing its features without exaggerating its impact

Covering the Covid-19 pandemic has been a real challenge for journalists. The surge of new virus variants, such as Delta, and the lack of clear information about them, are adds-on to an already complex and challenging coverage. Journalists play a valuable role in informing people accurately about these variants by describing their features and scientific-based evidence without exaggerating their impact.


This article seeks to answer commonly asked questions about the delta variant and offers tips and reliable sources for journalists covering stories related to the Delta variant.

First of all, what is a Covid-19 variant?

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time. According to the World Health Organization, some of these changes may affect the virus’ properties, such as how easily it spreads, the associated disease severity, the appearance of new symptoms, or the performance of vaccines. 

Differentiating transmission from severe disease and death

According to experts, Delta variant transmits more rapidly, meaning that it will more quickly race through populations and more easily find people who don’t comply with social distance rules or are not vaccinated. Until now, there’s no evidence that this variant leads to more hospitalization and death in vaccinated people, though it may cause more cases of mild disease with some vaccines. 

In this context, it seems crucial that the media clearly differentiate between virus transmission figures, which are on the rise around the world, with severe disease and death records, which vary depending on the vaccination rates. 


It would be terrific if all vaccines prevented transmission and mild disease 95% of the time. But they don’t. But that’s roughly their protection against severe disease and death, so the bottom line is they will prevent the need for lockdowns and wide use in a population will allow societies to function,said Jon Cohen, staff writer for Science magazine, to the IFJ.

Reporting on vaccines

The surge of new variants makes it even more important for media to report accurately on vaccines, avoiding alarmism and sensationalism when informing about possible death cases among vaccinated people.

Recent medical studies show that currently available vaccines offer strong protection against severe disease and death from Delta variant. For example, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease and 96% effective against hospitalization from Delta in the studies, while Oxford-AstraZeneca was 60% effective against symptomatic disease and 93% effective against hospitalization.

With current available data, boost vaccination campaigns across the world seems crucial. However, this doesn’t mean reporters have to take a side on ‘pro-vaccine’, but to promote data-driven and informed vaccine content, including reports over possible side effects, to their audience and fight fake news about their efficacy.

Journalism educates, but we’re not, by profession, educators. Our role is to tell people interesting and significant things that they don’t know. The best way to “fight” fake news is to produce the real stuff,” adds Cohen.

Use reliable sources and promote best practices

Experienced science reporters agree that knowing and accessing the best information sources make a difference when covering breaking news stories around the pandemic. This is particularly important for local media and journalists as they play a crucial role in explaining and making this information accessible to their local audience.

Regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have loads of documents with information, while WHO pressers are excellent and inclusive, and WHO’s website closely tracks the development of candidate vaccines. COVAX/Gavi website has lots of original material. I think the team I work with at Science does an excellent job at covering vaccine news, and I also closely follow reporting from STAT, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, South China Morning Post, Reuters, Bloomberg, Associated Press, and Caixin,” said Cohen.

Here are some good examples of good media coverage over the Delta variant:

Delta variant takes hold in developing world as infections soar – Financial Times

What you need to know about the highly contagious delta variant – The Washington Post

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