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

Pills shaped like question mark
As the pharma industry's reputation slips again from its peak positive, the big question is: Will it continue to drop? (Getty Images)

As the pharma industry’s image continues to slip in the latest Harris Poll surveynow at 56% positiveis it time to ask whether the halo around COVID-19 vaccine and treatment innovation is gone.

Down from a peak positive rating of 62% in February as the vaccine rolled out and then dipping to 60% in May, maybe it's better to ask: Is pharma’s image heading down a slippery slope or just getting a reality rightsizing as appreciation for COVID-19 efforts normalizes?

The answer may depend on what happens next in the industry.

The good news now for pharma is that the dip is subtle, as Rob Jekielek, managing director at The Harris Poll, pointed out, “You’re seeing a move to the middle range, not the bottom dropping out.”

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

And other industries such as grocery, technology and consumer products are also seeing a flattening out or small drops since May. It could be an indication that across industries, everyone is heading toward a new normal.

For pharma, the calculations that go into consumer perceptions about it are changing as the coronavirus is infecting fewer people and pandemic restrictions lift across the country. Instead of simply giving a positive thumbs-up vote for the industry's rapid vaccine and treatment research and development, other news is beginning to creep back in.

For instance, Biogen’s recent FDA approval for Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm. While the FDA nod and Biogen’s subsequent high price tag reveal stirred up the industry, most people who Harris surveys viewed the approval positively

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

A majority of them said they had heard the news about a drug being approved to treat Alzheimer’s and generally viewed it favorably, Jekielek said. The Aduhelm approval from consumers' perspective was a win, which may have helped keep the industry as a whole in positive territory. The problem is, what happens when the next pharma news isn't seen as good—a pricing scandal or an egregious lawsuit?

While the current small slide is manageable, an ongoing or accelerating drop—especially dipping below 50% again—would be concerning, Jekielek said.

The new poll is "telling us that as an industry, there’s still a lot of good will, but pharma still needs to be on its front foot and pushing forward,” he said, adding "it’s nowhere near where it was in January 2020."