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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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

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