Archived Course

Covering the COVID-19 vaccine: What journalists need to know

March 29 - April 25, 2021
Instructor(s):   Maryn McKenna

Welcome to the Knight Center’s new MOOC, “Covering the COVID-19 vaccine: What journalists need to know.” During this four-week massive open online course, students will learn how to improve their coverage of COVID-19 and the vaccines. Students will hear from leading science journalists and medical experts who will discuss the efficacy of different vaccine formulas, analyze the distribution of vaccines, share tips for dispelling disinformation and misinformation when covering the vaccines, and much more. Watch this video and find more details below, including instructions on how to register for this course, which will be held from March 29 to April 25, 2021.

This is a Knight Center course held in partnership with UNESCO, UNDP, and WHO, and co-funded by the European Union.


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  1. Create an account in the Journalism Courses system. Even if you’ve taken a course with us before, you may need to create a new account. Check to see if your previous username and password work before creating a new account.
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  3. Log into the platform, scroll down until you see the course listings, and click on the “Covering the COVID-19 vaccine: What journalists need to know” course.
  4. A button will appear. Click “Enroll” to enroll yourself in the course. You will be able to access the course from the “My Courses” menu at the top of the page.
  5. You will receive an email confirming your enrollment.

Please add the email addresses journalismcourses@austin.utexas.edu and filipa.rodrigues@utexas.edu  to your address book to ensure you receive emails about the course.

In this four-week course, attendees will review how vaccines were achieved against Covid-19, examine the efficacy of the different vaccine formulas, analyze plans for distributing the vaccines, and investigate the complexity of overcoming both vaccine hesitancy and mis- and disinformation. Participants will learn from scientific experts, other journalists, and staff from international agencies such as the World Health Organization regarding key things to know to begin or continue covering the vaccine campaign, and will come away with an extensive menu of tips and recommendations for doing their own stories, no matter their experience or beats. The course will provide journalists with tools to dispel disinformation, misinformation and myths created around the COVID-19 vaccines.

At the conclusion of this course, attendees should be able to:

  • Integrate knowledge from many sources to understand the achievement of COVID-19 vaccines;
  • Evaluate data from the vaccine clinical trials and understand claims of efficacy and effectiveness;
  • Identify sources of data and information regarding plans for vaccine distribution internationally and in their home countries;
  • Understand the perils of vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine advocacy and distinguish between them; and identify the rise of misinformation and disinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines;
  • Design a plan for covering the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, applying the local context of their newsrooms and political systems;
  • Participate in a worldwide community of journalists covering COVID-19 vaccination, in order to share insights and practical experience.

Introduction Module: Course Description

This module will provide an overview of the course and the topic, some initial readings, and includes this syllabus, a promo video and a welcome video explaining what students will learn week to week.

Module 1: Vaccines are here: Now what?
(March 29 - April 4, 2021)

This module will cover the different vaccines that have been licensed to date around the world, and the many candidate vaccines still in the pipeline, explaining how their underlying technologies differ. We will review clinical trial data and identify sources of information regarding the vaccines, and explain the different logistical challenges of delivering them.

Module 2: When will vaccines arrive?
(April 5 - 11, 2021)

This module will examine how vaccine delivery has unfolded in the countries that have already begun vaccination, and will explore predictions for when other countries will receive their own vaccines. It will scrutinize the risk of “vaccine nationalism” and hoarding as well as explain international plans to ensure that developing-economy countries receive their fair share.

Module 3: How can we trust the vaccines?
(April 12 - April 18, 2021)

This module will distinguish between vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination activism and discuss the reasonable concerns of minority groups and nations who in the past have been victimized by unethical research practices. It will examine the rise of misinformation and weaponized disinformation against the vaccines and explore resources for debunking false claims and encouraging trust.

Module 4: After vaccination, what is the future?
(April 19- 25, 2021)

This module will examine predictions for how long it will take to achieve population immunity and to what degree societies will need to persist with masks and social distancing. It will examine the risks of emerging viral variants and explore what ongoing response will be needed if SARS CoV-2 becomes an endemic infection.

marynMaryn McKenna is an independent journalist who specializes in public health, global health and food policy, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University, where she teaches health and science writing and narrative. She is the author of the 2017 bestseller BIG CHICKEN: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats, which received the 2018 Science in Society Award and was named a best book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, Science News, Wired, Civil Eats, and other publications (and is published outside North America under the title Plucked) and the award-winning books Superbug and Beating Back the Devil. She appears in the 2019 documentary Resistance Fighters, which won top prizes at the Vancouver and Paris film festivals, and the 2014 U.S. documentary Resistance, and her 2015 TED Talk, "What do we do when antibiotics don't work any more?" has been viewed 1.8 million times and translated into 34 languages. She is a contributor for WIRED and writes for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic, Mother Jones, Newsweek, NPR, Smithsonian, Scientific American, Slate, The Atlantic, Nature, and The Guardian, among other publications. She has received the 2019 AAAS-Kavli Gold Award for magazine writing, the 2019 John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication, the 2014 Leadership Award from the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences. She was a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale in 2018 and a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT in 2013-14. She lives in Atlanta.

After a year, the COVID-19 pandemic remains the biggest story in the world; it contains every beat in the newsroom. Thus this course should appeal to journalists with a wide array of experience, from science and medical journalists accustomed to covering infectious diseases to generalists for whom clinical trials and vaccine production and distribution are new territory.

This course only requires you to have access to an Internet connection and a web browser.

First of all, note that this is an asynchronous course. That means there are no live events scheduled at specific times. You can log in to the course and complete activities throughout the week at your own pace, at the times and on the days that are most convenient for you.

Despite its asynchronous nature, there are still structures in place for the duration of the course.

The material is organized into four weekly modules. Each module will be taught by renowned health and science journalist Maryn McKenna, with help from assistant instructors in four languages: Federico Kukso in Spanish, André Biernath in Portuguese, and Yves Sciama in French. The course will cover different topics through instructional videos, video interviews with guest speakers, presentations, readings and discussion forums. There will be a quiz each week to test the knowledge you've gained through the course materials. The weekly quizzes, and weekly participation in the discussion forums, are the basic requirements for earning a certificate of participation at the end of the course.

This course is very flexible, and if you are behind with the materials, you have the entire length of the course to complete them. We do recommend you complete each of the following before the end of each week so you don’t fall behind:

  • Video lectures
  • Readings and handouts/exercises
  • Participation in the discussion forums
  • Quizzes covering concepts from video lectures and/or readings

A certificate of completion is available for those who meet all of the course requirements, and pay online an administrative fee of $30 (thirty U.S. dollars), using a credit card. After confirmation of course requirements, the Knight Center will send a message with confirmation that you fulfilled the course requirements and qualify for the certificate. The message will also include all the steps and instructions to pay the certificate fee using a credit card. Once your payment has been confirmed you will receive an email with instructions on how to download the certificate.

To be eligible for a certificate of completion, you must:

  • Watch the weekly video classes and read the weekly readings
  • Complete weekly quizzes with a 70% minimum score. (You can retake the quizzes as many times as needed. Only the highest score will be recorded.)
  • Create OR reply to at least one discussion forum each week

The certificate of completion is not required in order to take the course. Students can still take our free online course without purchasing the certificate. No formal course credit of any kind is associated with the certificate.

The certificate is awarded by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas to attest to the participation in the online course.