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AP Stylebook updates coronavirus terms

AP Stylebook updates coronavirus terms

November 23, 2021 By Paula Froke Resources

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. More than a year later, the language we use to write about the coronavirus continues to evolve.

We updated the AP Stylebook Online Topical Guide on coronavirus terms earlier this year to add some new terms and revise others, reflecting our changing understanding of the effects of this worldwide crisis.


epidemic, pandemic (revised)

An epidemic is the rapid spreading of disease in a certain population or region; a pandemic is an epidemic that has spread wider, usually to multiple countries or continents, affecting a large number of people. Follow declarations of public health officials in terminology. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Do not write global pandemic; the adjective is unnecessary as this pandemic is widely known to be global.


vaccine (n.), vaccination (n) (new)

vaccine is a product that stimulates the body’s immune system to make antibodies and provide immunity against a specific virus or other germ. Vaccination is the act of giving a vaccine.

The terms are often interchangeable, since a person is receiving the vaccine while getting a vaccination. Use the term vaccination if needed to be specific about the act of giving or receiving the shot: the city’s vaccination schedule, for example. The terms immunization and vaccination can generally be used interchangeably.

Don’t refer to a vaccine as a drug, medicine or serum.

Coronavirus vaccines are made in a wide variety of ways. It’s not necessary to include the type of vaccine, unless relevant, in most stories. Use the manufacturer’s name if needed to distinguish between vaccines. 

Do not say anti-COVID-19 vaccine or anti-coronavirus vaccine. Instead: COVID-19 vaccine (or vaccination) or coronavirus vaccine (or vaccination). The terms COVID-19 and coronavirus are both acceptable as a modifier for the vaccine or vaccination.


antibodies (revised)

Substances that the body’s immune system makes to fight off infection. Antibodies are also made in response to a vaccine. Treatments for COVID-19 include medicines with concentrated doses of lab-made antibodies and blood plasma from survivors that contain antibodies.

A blood test for antibodies checks to see if someone has been infected previously. It’s not ideal for detecting active or current infections; other types of tests are preferred for that.


herd immunity (new)

Herd immunity occurs when enough people have immunity, either from vaccination or past infection, to stop uncontrolled spread of an infectious disease. It doesn’t mean that a virus or bacteria is eradicated or that no person can get infected. Outbreaks can still happen even when a population has achieved herd immunity. The threshold for herd immunity varies among different types of infectious diseases. Scientists aren’t sure what the threshold is for the coronavirus, though they believe it’s higher than 70%.


anti-vaxxer (new)

Do not use this term for someone who opposes vaccinations. If necessary in a direct quotation, explain it.


long-hauler (new)

Sometimes used to describe a person or group of people who do not fully recover from COVID-19 and have lingering symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog” and trouble sleeping. Use sparingly and describe the long-term health problem if relevant. The condition is sometimes referred to as long-haul COVID-19 or long COVID-19. Avoid the medical term: post-acute COVID syndrome, or PACS.


virus variant (new)

Viruses often develop small changes, or mutations, as they reproduce. Some are harmless but others are more worrisome, especially if they make the virus more contagious or make people sicker. They also might curb the effectiveness of some treatments or vaccines. Use variant or version to describe a new form of a virus. If a variant is different enough in certain ways than previous ones, it might be designated as a new strain or lineage, but these are not interchangeable terms. Avoid using the numbers given to variants, such as B.1.1.7 for the one first found in Britain.

Avoid using country labels like the South Africa variant. Instead: the variant first detected in South Africa.


AP Stylebook Online subscribers can access our revised coronavirus guide.  

We offer our most recent AP Stylebook Online Topical Guide free to all visitors, with no subscription or login required.

AP Stylebook updates coronavirus terms was originally published in Tracking Changes (Summer 2021 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.

Header image by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

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