A poll suggests vaccine data boosted Pfizer's public image, but other data point to long road ahead
For much of the pharmaceutical industry, the pandemic presented an opportunity: to prove their value to the world and turn public opinion around on a business much of the country had come to disdain.
That theory — that helping pull the country from a pandemic could neutralize years of anger over high drug prices — was put to its biggest test this month, as three different drugmakers announced data from their Covid-19 vaccines, offering the first major evidence that industry-built inoculations could turn the tide of the outbreak in the US.
And it indeed proved a boon to Pfizer — the 171-year-old American pharma — that on Nov. 9, it became the first company to release data showing its vaccine was over 90% effective, according to a new Harris Poll. The poll was conducted between Nov. 11 and Nov. 13, directly before Moderna announced their results.
It found that 48% of Americans had a more positive view of Pfizer following the company’s announcement. That compared with 10% who had a more negative view. The views of the rest were unchanged.
Respondents also had a better view of the industry as a whole, with 40% having a more positive view and 10% having a more negative view. Views of the federal government and the FDA also became more positive but to a lesser degree.
Still, the poll had severe limits: It did not ask what people’s views were of Pfizer or the industry overall; only whether those views had changed. It did not collect data on how they viewed the industry prior to the news, and it reminded participants in each question “that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective.”
Meanwhile, other data collected elsewhere suggested that even if pharma has boosted its image, it still has significant hurdles to clear if it wants Americans to trust the industry and the products they create.
Earlier in the pandemic, Gallup data suggested Americans feared industry would use the pandemic to raise drug prices. More recently, survey results suggest that distrust of pharma poses a steep obstacle for vaccination campaigns.
A survey released Monday from a coalition that includes the NAACP found that just 19% of Black Americans trust drug companies and 27% of Latinx Americans do. That was less than pharmacies and clinics, the FDA, and Anthony Fauci, who was the most trusted figure at 53% and 50%. (Pharma did beat out the Trump Administration, which 4% of Black Americans trusted and 19% of Latinx Americans trusted.)
The respondents were also skeptical that a vaccine would be safe and effective. Just over a third of LatinX Americans trusted it would be safe and just 40% thought it would be effective. For Black Americans, those figures were 14% and 18%.
These data were collected in early September, before the data on vaccine efficacy emerged. Still, they suggest that pharma can’t turn around long-running distrust overnight and that the distrust pharma and other facets of the US healthcare system have accrued over the years — which the study’s authors and outside experts say is rooted in historical trauma and long-running inequities — could now hamper the country as it tries to emerge from the pandemic.
Three quarters of respondents said they would not get a vaccine that was issued by emergency use authorization. At the FDA advisory hearing in September, experts read the worries of people of color out loud, including comments that pointed to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and said, “We are not going to be guinea pigs again.”
“Efforts to promote vaccine uptake in the Black community must directly confront and address the deep historical traumas that have created high levels of distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine, and the government and healthcare system overall,” the survey’s authors wrote.
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