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With Development of the COVID-19 Vaccine, Pharma Gets an Opportunity to Address Reputational Standing

January 13, 2021
By Marc Longpre

There’s always opportunity in the middle of difficult times, to paraphrase Einstein. For biopharma, the opportunity in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis was always going to be whether the industry could seize the moment at which it had the world’s attention. The scientists delivered.

That two vaccines (so far) have resulted from technology that had not yet produced a commercial vaccine or medicine and that they became authorized and available less than a year since the first cases were reported is nothing short of remarkable. And while many expected the industry would benefit from a reputation boost, we have our first evidence that is indeed the case: FleishmanHillard’s 2021 Health Checkup: Survey of Patients’ Perspectives of Issues, Inequities and Reputation (a survey fielded by TRUE Global Intelligence, the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, surveying 1,002 adults 18 years and older in the United States from December 15-28, 2020). Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they have a positive view of pharma companies, versus just 44% who said they viewed pharma companies positively prior to COVID.

The question is now whether the industry can maintain and build upon that progress. The success of the vaccination programs around the world will likely have something to do with that, but issues that dogged the industry prior to COVID, most notably the price of medicines and the industry’s ability to transparently communicate about price, will be front and center again soon. And future innovations, even in the most high-profile of cases, won’t capture the world’s attention like COVID for obvious reasons.

As the industry wraps up its annual (virtual) kickoff at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, the question will be exactly how to accomplish this goal. There’s plenty of reason for industry leaders to be optimistic about maintaining the momentum when it comes to perception – our survey showed people described companies as “innovative” and “science-driven” (34% and 30%, respectively), attributes that have been front and center in the last year. There is, as you’d expect, plenty still to address as well (“trustworthy” and “empathetic” scored at the bottom of the pack). Further research will be needed, of course, and the industry should use it to examine pathways to building their reputation and to communicate more effectively with their stakeholders.

FleishmanHillard will soon be releasing other illuminating details from the survey, including those focused on the reputation of other health institutions over the course of the pandemic (which did not fare as well in many cases) and issues related to health inequity across race and gender. We hope you’ll find these details as enlightening as we do.