Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca?
How different vaccines are discussed in the Swiss media
Switzerland’s pandemic response now relies heavily on the ongoing vaccination campaign. To ensure comprehensive protection of the entire population, as many people as possible should get vaccinated. Confidence in the vaccines is therefore fundamental. The media play an important role in building this trust. How a vaccine is reported has an impact on the willingness of the population to be vaccinated. So how are vaccines covered in the media? In this article, we take a closer look at the coverage of individual vaccines.
Figure 1: Media coverage of the individual vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic. The curve “all vaccines” includes all articles that mention at least one of the vaccines examined. The values were smoothed to a 30-day moving average.
Example: At the beginning of February 2021, up to 15 articles per day referred to the Moderna vaccine.
The Swiss vaccination campaign has recently gained momentum. More than a quarter of the population has already been vaccinated at least once. Several cantons have started to open vaccination dates to everyone over the age of 16. Switzerland currently uses two vaccines for vaccination: one from the American biotechnology company Moderna and another from the American-German collaboration Pfizer/BioNTech. Both vaccines have been used almost equally so far. But there are many other vaccines against Covid-19. The United Kingdom and other European countries primarily use the vaccine of the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. China (Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino) and Russia (Sputnik-V) have their own vaccines, which they also supply to other countries, for example in large parts of South America. In addition, there are many vaccines that are still in development, clinical trials or approval procedures.
A look at the coverage of the individual vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic (Figure 1) shows that the two vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used in Switzerland have received by far the most media attention. This has been the case since 9 November, when Pfizer/BioNTech were the first vaccine developers to announce very promising results from their efficacy study. Before that, the vaccine manufacturers were hardly a topic in the media, except for a short phase in August 2020.
Figure 2: Media coverage of the two vaccines approved and used in Switzerland by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. The values were smoothed to a 30-day moving average.
Reading example: At the beginning of February 2021, up to 15 articles a day referred to Moderna’s vaccine.
The first brief period of attention for Moderna arose in the context of global competition for rapid vaccine development (Figure 2). In mid-May 2020, it became known that the USA was putting pressure on the Swiss company Lonza to be supplied with vaccine doses on a privileged basis. Lonza manufactures vaccines for Moderna in Visp (VS). In August 2020, Moderna again made headlines when the federal government announced the first vaccine contract for 3 million Moderna vaccine doses. When Pfizer/BioNTech announced findings of very high vaccine protection from their efficacy trial in mid-November, it fuelled coverage of vaccines in general. Although Moderna also presented very good efficacy data only one week after Pfizer/BioNTech and is used to the same extent in Switzerland, the company consistently received less media attention than Pfizer/BioNTech. However, it is striking how similar the curves of the two vaccines are. In addition to general coverage of the efficacy studies and the implementation of the Swiss vaccination campaign, the following events were the drivers of the coverage: the first vaccination in the UK (Pizer/BioNTech), the first approval in Switzerland (Pizer/BioNTech), the first vaccination in Switzerland (Pizer/BioNTech), the official launch of the Swiss vaccination campaign, the Swiss approval for Moderna, supply shortages (primarily Pizer/BioNTech), additional supply contracts (Moderna among others) and the third Swiss approval for Johnson & Johnson.
Figure 3: Media coverage of the vaccine from AstraZeneca that is not licensed in Switzerland but has been ordered. The values were smoothed to a 30-day moving average.
Reading example: In mid-February 2021, up to 10 articles a day referred to AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
The vaccine from AstraZeneca is also much discussed in the Swiss media, although it has not yet received approval in Switzerland. The coverage of this vaccine is more often driven by negative events or confusing news (Figure 3). On 16 October, the Swiss government announced that it had signed a supply contract with AstraZeneca, but this received little attention. With the coverage of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, AstraZeneca also received increased attention for the first time. This was both from the first Swiss approval (Pfizer/BioNTech) and in the context of the first vaccination in the UK (Pfizer/BioNTech). At the beginning of February, confusion surrounding the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine (suspected weak efficacy in seniors, inconsistent findings in different studies) made headlines. In addition, a European dispute over supply delays began that was to continue for many weeks. In addition, doubts arose about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the South African mutation of the virus. The third wave of media attention built up at the end of March, when the first reports of blood clots in connection with the AstraZeneca vaccination caused a stir. As a result, many European countries suspended their vaccination campaigns with AstraZeneca.
Figure 4: Media coverage of the Chinese (Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino) and Russian (Sputnik-V) vaccines not licensed but not ordered in Switzerland, the Curevac and Novavax vaccines not licensed but ordered, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine licensed but not ordered. The values were smoothed to a 30-day moving average.
Reading example: At the end of February 2021, around 3 articles a day referred to the Russian vaccine Sputnik-V.
The remaining vaccines included in this report all receive much less media attention, but some show a slight upward trend (Figure 4). Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine received Swiss approval at the end of March, but is not being used. CureVac and Novavax have already concluded supply contracts with Switzerland, but have hardly been discussed since then. The Russian vaccine Sputnik-V and Chinese vaccines (Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino) are also only marginally discussed.
This analysis shows that the coverage of the different vaccines in Swiss-German media is dominated by a few vaccines, mainly Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. At the beginning of the vaccination campaign, Pfizer/BioNTech were mentioned in almost every vaccine article. Recently, there has been a slight tendency towards slightly more attention to other vaccines. The coverage of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna was mainly driven by events with positive connotations. AstraZeneca, on the other hand, repeatedly appeared in the media in connection with events with negative connotations.
What is also particularly striking is how decisive the “first mover” advantage was for Pfizer/BioNTech. Although Moderna signed the first supply contract with Switzerland, has vaccine doses manufactured in Switzerland by Lonza and was able to present very good efficacy data only one week after Pfizer/BioNTech, the company received much less attention than Pfizer/BioNTech. The first comprehensive efficacy study, the first approval and the first vaccination were all highly publicised events that had little media value the second time around.
Representativeness of the data
For the analysis of the media contributions, a total of 12 online media are recorded. The sample includes the media with the widest reach in German-speaking Switzerland. It takes into account different media types and includes subscription media, commuter media and tabloid media as well as the portals of SRG SSR.
Media sample: 20minuten.ch, aargauerzeitung.ch, baslerzeitung.ch, bernerzeitung.ch, blick.ch, bluewin.ch, luzernerzeitung.ch, nzz.ch, srf.ch/news, tagblatt.ch, tagesanzeiger.ch, watson.ch