The 2010 American Society for Microbiology Public Communication Award has been awarded to New Scientist reporter Debora MacKenzie for her feature about the potential for a universal flu vaccine. The story, entitled "An End to Flu?" shows that a deeper understanding of the molecular virology of influenza is leading to the development of alternative flu vaccines that hold the potential for eliminating the threat of pandemic flu.
The award recognizes outstanding journalistic achievement in increasing public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of microbiology. The Public Communications Award, which includes a $2500 honorarium, will be presented during a ceremony at the ASM General Meeting, May 23 - 27 in San Diego.
At the time the article was published (August, 2009), there were serious public uncertainties about the H1N1 pandemic and the ability to make enough vaccine in time for a second wave. "An End to Flu?" put efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine in context, explaining why viral evolution means current flu vaccines must be constantly updated, and why other flu antigens, because of their apparent functions in the virus, appear to be unvarying. Our judges called the piece "well written, clear, and relevant."
Debora MacKenzie is Canadian, did graduate work in electrophysiology in the US, and since 1980 has lived in Europe. She has been a regular contributor to the British magazine New Scientist since 1984, in recent years specialising in infectious disease, food production, arms control, fisheries, and public attitudes to science. She is based in Brussels.
Judges for the award were Josh Fischman, Senior Editor, Chronicle of Higher Education; Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor, Reuters; and Carl Zimmer, host of the Meet the Scientist podcast and New York Times contributing writer.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 43,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.