Pharma's reputation drops again. Could it foreshadow a return to the bottom?

Pills shaped like question mark
If the pharma industry's reputation falls again, and drops below a 50% consumer positive sentiments, will it signal an eventual return to pre-pandemic levels? (Getty Images)

Pharma's reputation continues to slide, now down to 53% of consumers who still hold a positive view. The decline began after a February high of 62% approval, down to 60% in May and then 56% in June—and now down three more percentage points, according to The Harris Poll.

The steady drip, drip of approval drops now adds up to an overall nine-point decline in six months.

“Every one of those changes this year is not that big, but when you look at the overall trend line since February, it’s an ongoing down trend,” Rob Jekielek, managing director at Harris Poll, said

While other industries are down—only tech and consumer products have been managing gains—pharma has seen the steepest decline across 10 industries.

RELATED: Pharma's reputation rehab: A whopping two-thirds of Americans now offer a thumbs-up, Harris Poll finds

So the big question remains—will pharma's reputation begin to level off or continue to decline? The industry does have a way to go before it reaches pre-pandemic low levels like in January 2020 when just 32% of consumers held good opinions about pharma. Yet the small but steady drops show no indication of slowing.

Pharma maintained a mid-50s percentage approval rating throughout 2020 by Harris calculations. So will the 53% August rating mark a tipping point? That is, if the pharma industry's reputation falls again and maybe drops out of 50-percentage territory, will it just keep tanking?

“If you look at the data from last year, what you would hope is that it starts to flatten out back to that a bit, but we’re not seeing any signs of that,” Jekielek said.

One potential boost came this week, although too late for the poll. Pfizer and BioNTech’s official, full FDA approval for the Comirnaty vaccine arrived Monday. Could it be the bump pharma needs? After all, the positive high earlier this year spiked around effective vaccine arrivals from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Pfizer and Moderna are already standouts with consumers, viewed as “key solution providers,” outside of any other happenings in the industry, Jekielek said. Pfizer, in particular, has tracked well throughout the pandemic with high awareness and outstanding favorability.

RELATED: Is pharma's halo slipping? Industry image continues to slide in latest Harris Poll

Or maybe not.

“Another important part of the story is what happens with mandates rolling out, even if it’s by individual companies,” Jekielek said. “As a country, most Americans are not pro-mandate. They’re pro 'I get to choose.'"

Profits are another reputation consideration. Pharma companies are making a lot of money from the vaccines, and while consumers understand a payoff for time, research and talent invested, how much is too much before widespread backlash?