When the pandemic struck, pharma companies picked up their tools and went to work. The industry began accelerated vaccine development, scoured old and new drugs for treatment potential and rushed to create new diagnostics tests.
And, outside the lab, companies pitched in with millions of dollars for contributions of personal protective gear, donations to local community efforts such as food banks and newly launched health inequality efforts.
TV and digital campaigns during the pandemic not only reinforced the industry's key role in mitigating the pandemic but also doubled down on showcasing its dedication to science.
Pfizer debuted its “Science Will Win” in April with real employees who work on vaccines and antiviral treatments. A social media explainer series with its chief medical officer, #KnowtheFacts, launched in March with info and tips on dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Johnson & Johnson launched its own “The Road to a Vaccine” weekly social media series in April to talk about the science and cultural impacts of the pandemic and its own work on a pending vaccine. J&J’s pharma arm, Janssen, began its own social media effort—“Janssen Never Stops”—this summer to reassure people its researchers are continuing to develop and produce new medicines even as its scientists also work on a COVID-19 vaccine.
And the industry's reputation soared. Harris Poll surveys throughout the pandemic consistently reported gains of 40% or more among consumers, who now have a better opinion of pharma than they did before the COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, trust in pharma is also on the rise. Harris reports drugmakers are among the more trusted sources of vaccine information, with 70% of people agreeing they’re trustworthy on the subject.
In short, pharma got its COVID-19 halo in 2020 and it’s not letting go. That’s the right move, according to experts and industry insiders.
Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks said in April that the biopharmaceutical industry has a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset" its reputation.
It's a chance to rehabilitate the typically subpar industry image. With the focus off of drug pricing, patents and political mandates—at least temporarily—companies will continue in 2021 to spotlight the value they add to society.
Christina Falzano, Havas’ Conran Design Group managing director, said it is “an opportunity to demonstrate, not only remind people but demonstrate, what is at the heart of what they do, which is improving people’s lives and applying science to do that.”