Pfizer CEO Bourla stung by UK's pharma marketing regulator over kids' COVID vax claims: report

Pfizer’s chief executive Albert Bourla, Ph.D., is in hot water for claims he made during a BBC interview late last year about the company's then-unapproved COVID vaccine for younger kids. The claims have reportedly been branded “misleading” and “overly promotional.”

That’s the latest finding in an ongoing case at the British pharmaceutical marketing regulator the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), The Telegraph reports

In an interview with the BBC on Dec. 2, 2021, Bourla said “there is no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely, are in favour of” vaccinating youngsters ages 5 to 11 against COVID.

He added that: “COVID in schools is thriving […] This is disturbing, significantly, the educational system, and there are kids that will have severe symptoms.”

Bourla gave the interview before the shot had been given the OK for kids in this setting, meaning anything deemed promotional about the vaccine could be seen as in breach of the strict drug marketing rules in the country.

It was, in fact, not until February of this year that the U.K. government ruled children ages 5 to 11 could be offered the vaccine. The government also left the decision on whether to vaccinate children in the hands of parents.

In a complaint brought by UsForThem, a parent campaign group in the U.K. that aims to highlight the harms done to children during the pandemic, the group said Bourla’s comments were “disgracefully misleading” and “extremely promotional in nature." The organization argued Bourla's interview breached several clauses of the code of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

According to The Telegraph’s reporting, PMCPA, which enforces ABPI code, ruled that Pfizer breached the rules in a number of different ways, including by misleading the public, making unsubstantiated claims and by failing to present information in a factual and balanced way.

In an earlier finding, PMCPA also concluded that Pfizer brought discredit to the industry, encouraged irrational use of a medicine and failed to maintain high standards, the more serious end of the rule breaches.

But Pfizer hit back and had appealed against the rulings. In the end, the PMCPA overturned most of the serious breaches, according to The Telegraph.

The way this news has come out is unusual. The PMCPA is self-regulatory body set up by the pharma industry, but it can and does enact some strict punishments if companies are found in breach of its marketing rules. In more serious cases, the findings are published in medical journals.

These cases are always uploaded onto the PMCPA’s site and, when completed, are available for the public to read. But the Pfizer cases—officially titled: AUTH/3591/12/21 - A complaint on behalf of UsForThem v Pfizer—is as yet not completed.

It appears as if the details have been shared with The Telegraph ahead of time but with no one else, which is not usual practice. The PMCPA told Fierce Pharma Marketing it could not say how or why this information had been seen by The Telegraph but a spokesperson said that they "anticipate that the case report will be published on our website before Christmas."

“We are pleased the UK’s PMCPA Appeal Board found Pfizer to have maintained high standards and upheld confidence in our industry, the two most serious rulings in this complaint from a UK campaign group,” a Pfizer spokesman told Fierce Pharma Marketing.

“In the U.K., we have always endeavoured to follow the principles and letter of our industry Code of Practice throughout. We will review the case report in detail when we receive it, to inform future activity.”