And that’s totally fine. But here’s a recent example of why you should always read beyond the headlines:
Last week, WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan was quoted out of context. In Swaminathan’s original statement, the warning in regard to mixing COVID-19 vaccines was given to those who are already fully vaccinated and may be deciding for themselves if they need an extra “booster” dose (CBC News, 2021). The media’s representation of Dr. Swaminathan’s statement, however, failed to provide context as headlines along the lines of “WHO Warns Against Mixing and Matching COVID-19 Vaccines” flooded the internet.
With one thing leading to another, false rumors about mixing and matching vaccines had essentially spread across the globe. What was initially given as a warning, had quickly escalated into a chaotic situation of broken telephone in which Canadians were beginning to doubt their own country’s vaccination strategy—which includes mixing and matching vaccines (CBC News, 2021). In a tweet following the press conference, Dr. Swaminathan clarified that mixing vaccines is completely safe and that public health agencies, not individuals, should make decisions on mixing and matching COVID vaccines, based on available data (Reuters, 2021).
TLDR: “Context is extremely important.”
According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, if there’s one thing to take away from this situation, it’s to always remember that “context is extremely important.” In his interview with CBC News, Bogoch states that WHO officials “were really referring to people who had already received, for example, a full course of a vaccine series and then were, you know, for lack of a better word, choosing their own adventure and trying to get additional doses of a vaccine” (CBC News, 2021).
CBC News. (2021, July 14). What the World Health Organization really said about mixing COVID-19 vaccines | CBC News. CBCnews. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/covid-19-vaccine-mixing-and-matching-who-1.6101047.
Reuters. (2021, July 12). WHO warns individuals against mixing and matching COVID vaccines. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/who-warns-against-mixing-matching-covid-vaccines-2021-07-12/?taid=60ec9968fdc7d300011ff877&utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A%2BTrending%2BContent&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=twitter.
About the Author
Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her) is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.