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Covid news coverage needs to start from this fact: ‘The vaccines work’

<i>Spencer Platt/Getty Images</i><br/>
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images


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By Brian Stelter, CNN Business

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Let’s start with the good news: Vaccination rates in the US are ticking back up. Sunday marked the fifth straight day of the CDC recording more than 700,000 shots in arms across the country.

Now to the bad news, and there’s a lot of it. “The Biden administration’s handling of the Delta surge has left Americans confused and frustrated, fueling media overreaction and political manipulation,” as Mike Allen and Caitlin Owens wrote for Axios. Comms failures by the CDC and other agencies have been at the root of the problem. News outlets’ sensational headlines and faulty frames have compounded the problem.

Reason mag senior editor Robby Soave didn’t hold back on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” He opined that recent news coverage has been “utterly, shamefully hyperbolic and fear-mongering” and said “it’s scaring people unnecessarily” since “the vaccines are extremely effective.” The much-talked-about data from a July outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, proves that point once more: Only a few people were hospitalized and no one died. That’s what the headline “should have been,” Dr. Celine Gounder said.

Meanwhile, unvaccinated Americans keep getting admitted to hospitals and placed onto ventilators. On “Reliable,” I showed CNN’s graph of hospitalizations in Louisiana, one of the least-vaccinated states of the union, where hospitalizations are rising quickly, and then Vermont, the most-vaccinated state, where hospitalizations are close to zero.

Two very different stories

There is no single national story about Covid-19 right now. There are two very different realities for two different audiences — the vaccinated and the unvaxxed — and thus two very different stories.

Obviously news outlets shouldn’t blindly follow what any White House says, but the points that were made by Biden aides on Friday, as reported by Oliver Darcy in Friday night’s newsletter, were reasonable. As one of the aides said, “The biggest problem we have is unvaccinated people getting and spreading the virus.” It’s not a new story, but it remains the top story. As Jake Tapper said at the beginning of “State of the Union” Sunday morning: “The vaccines work. The vaccines remain the best way to protect yourselves from this virus. Period. Full stop.”

To that end, there was an important recap on Page One of Sunday’s NYT: The unvaccinated in America “is not a single set of Americans, but in many ways two.” One group, skewing rural and conservative, is adamantly opposed to the vaccines, and the other group is hesitant but is much more open to helping. Two very different stories…

Five related reads

— Every day, we see more and more steps in this direction: “We have to say to people, ‘Look, there’s a consequence if you choose not to get vaccinated, and you can’t participate in the public square quite the same way you could otherwise,'” Andy Slavitt told CNN’s Phil Mattingly Sunday night… (CNN)

— Covid will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, Gounder said: “We have to learn to live with it. And vaccines are how we learn to live with it…” (CNN)

— Andrew Sullivan’s take: “These viruses challenge the psyche, and the trick, it seems to me, is not to deny their power and danger, but to see past them to the real goal: the living of your life…” (The Weekly Dish)

— In the words of Kendall Ostrow, “the White House has launched the most important influencer marketing campaign of all time.” Taylor Lorenz has a preview of the pro-vax effort… (NYT)

— Key quote from WH aide Rob Flaherty: “If we view disinformation as a negative information effort, this campaign is a positive information effort…” (Twitter)

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