Resolution Statement – 29938-20 Ackroyd v Lytham St Annes
Summary of Complaint
1. Peter Ackroyd complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Lytham St Annes Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an reader’s letter headlined “Covid vaccine is being rushed out”, published on 10 December 2020.
2. The letter had been submitted by a reader, and stated that the “Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are experimental mRNA vaccines” and described them as “rushed”. It reported that “the phase three trial of safety and efficacy testing is still ongoing”, and that phase three would not be complete “until 24 months after vaccination”. It said the people who had wanted the vaccine were “literally human guinea pigs who are volunteering to be experimented upon”.
3. The complainant said that the letter was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as the safety and efficacy phase trials were complete at the time of publication, and therefore it was inaccurate to state that people who wanted the vaccine would be “human guinea pigs”. He also said that it was misleading to state that it was “rushed” as whilst the vaccine had been approved quickly, there was no suggestion it had been done in a hurried manner, or that it had suffered as a result of the speed with which it had been produced. He also said it was misleading to report that it was experimental, as it had been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that readers’ letters are clearly marked and that the page acts as a forum for readers’ opinions. It said it did not wish to censor the opinions of readers, but offered the complainant the opportunity to write a rebuttal letter.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
5. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
6. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to print the following correction:
In a letter published on December 10, 2020 (Covid vaccine is being rushed out) the letter writer claimed the Pfizer/BioNTeach and Moderna vaccines had been “rushed out” and were “experimental”.
We have been asked to point out that, according to the independent Oxford Vaccine Knowledge Project, this is not the case and both vaccines have been through a very extensive testing process, involving tests on 10,000s of people across five continents.
The letter writer also claimed phase three of the safety and efficacy trial of the Pfizer vaccine was still underway and would continue for a further 24 months.
Pfizer's final phase three safety and efficacy results were actually published by the New England Journal of Medicine on the same day as the letter appeared in the Express.
Pfizer plans to continue its study to collect safety and long-term outcomes data from participants for a full two years. It also intends to submit its data for peer review. Both of these processes sit outside of the phase three trial period.
The letter writer also described anyone having the vaccine as “human guinea pigs who are volunteering to be experimented upon.”
We have been asked to make clear that, according to the Oxford Vaccine Knowledge Project, the Covid-19 vaccines currently approved have been thoroughly reviewed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
This authorisation means people getting the vaccine can be assured they are not considered “guinea pigs” in any way.
7. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
8. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 17/12/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/01/2021Back to ruling listing