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Pharma’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on public image

Pharmaceutical companies have historically struggled with negative public perception. In January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 32% of Americans rated the industry positively. Much of the criticism derives from high drug prices and sentiment that companies place profits over patients. However, in a February 2021 survey by The Harris Poll, 62% of Americans held a positive view of the pharmaceutical industry. This change, boosted by the response of pharmaceutical companies to the pandemic, has the opportunity to generate lasting benefits for the industry.

The positive change in Pharma’s reputation is in part due to the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to rapidly begin research and development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Multiple pharmaceutical and biotech companies quickly collaborated and devoted their resources to develop vaccines against the virus as soon as the pandemic began over a year ago. Public perception improved quickly as well, with 48% of Americans in May 2020 and 53% in July 2020 seeing the industry in a positive light. Now that three vaccines are currently available in the United States (from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) and they have demonstrated high efficacy and safety, pharmaceutical companies are benefitting from an additional reputation boost.

Pharmaceutical companies are now looking to build off of these gains to further improve their public images in the long run. This will be accomplished by implementing long-term business campaigns that focus on issues that consumers care about. In conjunction with programs already in place such as philanthropic activities and patient-assistance programs, new initiatives to promote greater transparency, diversity, and collaboration are expected to propel companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer (who have committed to such strategies) into a more positive public standing. Now, pharmaceutical companies will need to follow through with these promises if they would like to improve healthcare and continue to be seen in a positive manner.

Written by Matthew Roth, PharmD Candidate 2024



1. Bulik, B.S. (2021) Pharma's reputation rehab: A whopping two-thirds of Americans now offer a thumbs-up, Harris Poll finds. Fierce Pharma.

2. The Harris Poll. (2021) Pharma’s reputation gains persist through pandemic, bolstered by vaccine makers’ pledge. The Harris Poll.

3. Bulik, B.S. (2020) J&J, Pfizer comms chiefs talk vaccine pledge, politics, inequality and getting to a 'better normal'. Fierce Pharma.

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