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Knight Center, UNESCO, WHO & UNDP partner to offer free online course for journalists covering the COVID-19 vaccines

To help journalists inform the public about the COVID-19 vaccines and fight disinformation surrounding them, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas teamed up with UN agencies to offer a free online course taught by experts in the field.

“Covering the COVID-19 vaccine: What journalists need to know,” runs from March 29 - April 25 2021 and will be offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Registration is free and open to all.  Even though the course has already started, there is still time to register and catch up. The course is asynchronous, so students can complete the course materials on their own time. So far, more than 4,000 students from 130+ countries have registered.

This Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is being held in partnership with UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Health Organization, and co-funded by the European Union.

“Every day, people are searching for a path out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, scientific international cooperation and vaccines have created hope that a brighter future is within reach,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO in a video about the course. “Yet, the success of the global vaccination campaigns depends on building trust among the public and ensuring they have access to the information they need. Independent and professional media play a key role in this process.”

“When misinformation abounds, journalists help us break down complex facts and verify information,” Azoulay continued.“They hold authorities and others to account and bring us reliable information that saves lives, too. However, to deal with such complex issues, journalists, and media workers in general, need knowledge and expertise. And that is why, working with our partners and with the support of the European Union, UNESCO is proud to be co-organizing this course to ensure professional coverage of COVID-19 vaccines. So join us.”

English banner for COVID vaccines MOOC

The MOOC is being taught by health and science journalist Maryn McKenna, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University. She will be joined by assistant instructors specific to each language. André Biernath, a science journalist for BBC Brazil, is the assistant instructor in Portuguese; Federico Kukso, a science journalist and author from Argentina, is the assistant instructor in Spanish; and Yves Sciama, a science journalist from France and vice president of the French Association of Science Journalists, is the assistant instructor in French.

“Journalists carry a huge responsibility. You inform and enlighten. You speak truth to power. You positively impact people’s lives -- sometimes by risking your own,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator in a video about the MOOC.

“For the first time in 30 years, global human development is going backwards due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic -- with the poorest and most vulnerable being hit the hardest. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With the rollout of vaccines, we have an opportunity to push the ‘reset button’ towards a greener, more inclusive, and more sustainable future,” Steiner said. “Whether it’s advocating for equitable access to vaccines or tackling misinformation, journalists are very much shaping the world of tomorrow. In doing so, it is clear that accurate and evidence-based media coverage is key.”

The MOOC will feature video classes with McKenna, complemented by video interviews with guest speakers, reading materials, discussion forums, and quizzes. Guest speakers include coronavirologist Angela Rasmussen, the World Health Organization’s Kate O’Brien, Deepak Kapur, chairman of the Rotary International’s India National PolioPlus Committee, and Jessica Malaty Rivera, science communication lead for the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic.

“The work of journalists has never been more important. The public and policy makers rely on accurate information from public health institutions and news media to make decisions about how to protect themselves and others,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. “We depend on the press to fight misinformation, explain the signs and foster honest inquiry and debate.”

Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that the world faces two big problems regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. The first is vaccine equity -- a majority of vaccines are going to a limited number of mostly wealthy countries. The second regards conspiracy theories and misinformation that lead to hesitancy in getting the vaccines.

“Your journalism matters. The hard work you do every day to dig deep and get it right matters,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video about the course. “A tough and fair press can be a powerful force for a healthier, safer, fairer world. I'm not telling you anything that you don't know. But, I would like to express, finally, my appreciation for what you do.”

This MOOC is in sequel to a COVID-19 MOOC that the Knight Center held last May, right as the pandemic was beginning. , The MOOC, course, “Journalism in a pandemic: Covering COVID-19 now and in the future,”  attracted nearly 9,000 students from 162 countries and washeld in partnership with UNESCO and the World Health Organization, with support from the Knight Foundation and UNDP.. Self-directed versions of the course are available in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The organizations then collaborated on the multilingual webinar, “Covering the COVID-19 vaccine: What journalists need to know,” on Jan. 29, 2021. The event was held in collaboration with UNESCO and the WHO, with funding from the European Union. Journalists, health experts and NGO representatives gave best practices for journalists covering the vaccines, with a focus on vaccine distribution and the science behind the vaccines. Recordings of the webinar are available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

UNESCO and WHO also helped the Knight Center compile a robust multilingual resource page for journalists who are covering the vaccines.

Read more about the new COVID-19 vaccines MOOC, including featured discussion topics, and then sign up to join journalists, communicators and fact-checkers from around the world as we learn how to cover the new and developing vaccines.