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

Almost two-thirds of Americans now give the pharma industry a thumbs up. It’s a stunning reversal from just one year ago when only about one-third (32%) rated the industry positively, according to The Harris Poll surveys.

In its most recent February poll, 62% rated the pharma industry as a 5, 6 or 7 on a 7-point scale, with 1 equating to “very bad” and 7 to “very good.” That’s an increase of 30 percentage points since January 2020, before the pandemic hit U.S. shores.

And that's a key point: The hockey-stick upturn stems directly from pharma's proactive response to COVID-19—just as some industry executives hoped.

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Multiple companies quickly jumping in to develop vaccines, working across the industry to share data and resources, speeding vaccines to market with high efficacy and safety profiles and now rolling out shots all worked in pharma's favor.

“They’re very much part of the solution,” said Rob Jekielek, managing director at Harris Poll, adding that with the vaccines working well now, “as long as that continues, it’s going to have a lot of positive pull for pharma. Right now they’re very science- and research-forward versus very business-forward.”

The science-forward position—and the public’s charged-up interest in research and technical details thanks to the vaccine—may portend sustained reputation gains for the industry.

The opportunity to showcase not only vaccine technology but future innovations centered on advanced now in the public lexicon—like mRNA—could lead to more engaged and educated consumers.

Pharma can “use vaccines as a really important lens, but also get back to the core facts, proof points and narrative around pharma innovation, research and science serving patients,” Jekielek said.

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Indeed, experts and industry insiders expect that pharma companies will leverage the positive news from COVID-19 innovation in future communications and messaging to rehabilitate its previously subpar image.

Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks said last April that the biopharmaceutical industry has a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset" its reputation.

Christina Falzano, Havas’ Conran Design Group managing director, told Fierce Pharma in August that it presents “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.”