Pharma industry's reputation hits plateau amid spike in vaccine hesitancy

vaccines
Even as vaccine hesitancy rises, the pharma industry's reputation remains solidly positive with a majority of Americans. (Moonhonor/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Pharma's hockey-stick improvement in reputation is flattening out. The good news is the industry is still the biggest gainer amid the pandemic, according to The Harris Poll’s most recent survey.

Sixty percent of Americans rate the pharma industry positively, down slightly from a 62% high in February. But that’s still an increase of 28 percentage points since January 2020, before the pandemic began.

The less-good news, though, is that pharma's stall comes as other industries continue to polish their reputations. Retail grocery, technology and consumer products were the highest-rated industries in the early May poll and are on the upswing.

Their overall gains are smaller, though, Harris Poll Managing Director Rob Jekielek pointed out. In some cases, like technology, the recent gains end up as a break-even; tech's reputation has now returned to where it was when the pandemic began.

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

“Pharma is still in an envious position over other industries, but also in a plateau right now,” he said.

The culprit in pharma's stall? News about the pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations as public health experts studied reports of rare blood clots. Coming on the heels of a similar pause with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it made for a double dose of bad news—and an uptick in vaccine hesitancy.

“A lot of people are aware of the J&J vaccine pause, and it’s made them more hesitant. Similarly on AstraZeneca, it happened when the first cases of blood clots surfaced in Europe. We asked people if they heard about it and they had, and again, it drove more hesitancy,” Jekielek said.

While J&J’s pause—and ensuing investigation and return to the market—was the right thing to do, it also served to fuel vaccine worries. It “became another proof point for people who are already on the fence to become more hesitant overall,” he said.

RELATED: Pharma's pandemic reputation gains score a 'most-improved' medal in annual ranking

In other Harris findings, pharma companies continued to enjoy solid trust from Americans who overwhelmingly see them as good sources of information. People rely on pharma companies with expertise in vaccines in general, with 73% ranking their information as accurate, while 72% of Americans trust the information from companies working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Doctors and nurses still rank highest, with 84% of Americans’ trust, followed by nationally recognized hospitals at 82% and “my local hospital” at 80%.

Social media continues to fare the worst with only 36% of people believing news there, followed by 52% trust in the national media.

The new survey also had some good news for government. The White House rose eight percentage points to 58% in terms of trustworthiness, while public service announcements and websites from the government jumped seven points to 62%. Consumers' renewed faith may bode well for the marketing campaigns running now from both groups as they work to encourage more COVID-19 vaccinations.