Pharma reputation during COVID-19 hits inflection point

Opinion Piece in PRWeek by Wendy Lund, CEO, GCI Health


Despite a September Axios-Ipsos poll that found fewer than one in 10 Americans had a great deal of trust in the FDA or pharmaceutical companies to look out for their interests, we can say with irrefutable confidence that the pharma industry’s reputation is stronger — quantitatively and anecdotally — than it’s been in over 15 years and is at a new and unique inflection point.

According to a recent Harris Poll survey, this year the industry’s positive reputation rose from 32% in January to 54% in September.

There are unique and tangible reasons fueling this dramatic rise. Vaccine development is a key driver. The industry made incredible operational and organizational changes to fast-track development. But it’s not the only reason.

The public has seen a consistent stream of actions — and communication — in support of medical and frontline workers, and extraordinary levels of cooperation among traditionally fierce competitors. The diagnostics and therapeutics segments have also risen up, as has the industry’s focus on supporting patients with chronic conditions and urging consumers to get screened to avoid a different kind of epidemic.

The value of this collaboration was most apparent in the COVID-19 Vaccine Maker Pledge, a speedy response to the growing politicization of the treatment and vaccine approval process.

With questions rising over the veracity of information and guidance coming out of the CDC and FDA, pharmaceutical companies stepped up to become highly trusted resources. Now, 70% of Americans trust the industry as a source of vaccine information.

As communicators, we have an incredible opportunity to be a steadying force as vaccines and other innovations move through development. A high level of transparency is essential to maintain the public’s trust given the speed that vaccines are being developed.

It’s going to require a regular cadence of education, encouragement and engagement, from a comms standpoint, to retain that trust and build momentum for a vaccine that will ultimately allow us to emerge from the pandemic.

Rob Jekielek, MD at The Harris Poll, contributed to this column.