The study found that people in the UK are the least likely to trust a COVID-19 vaccine simply because it was invented by a company based in their own country, with only 45 per cent stating that they would be more likely to trust a homegrown vaccine.
This was a far lower proportion than in the other markets surveyed, such as China (86 per cent), Germany (66 per cent), France (65 per cent), US (60 per cent), and Russia (49 per cent).
The study, Emerging from COVID-19: What next for the pharmaceutical industry?, also found that “people in the UK were far less attached to the idea that a vaccine had to be produced in their country to be trustworthy than other countries”.
Less than half (49 per cent) said they would be more likely to trust a COVID-19 vaccine if it was manufactured in their country, compared to 88 per cent in China, 68 per cent in Germany, and 65 per cent in France.
The X factor
Overall, the safety of new drugs is the top factor influencing the way people view pharma firms, cited by 82 per cent.
It is closely followed by how honest and ethical firms are (77 per cent) and how fairly they price their drugs (71 per cent).
While people in the UK also place safety, honesty and ethics as the top things that shape their views on pharma firms, they place the amount of research and development conducted (65 per cent) above the fairness of drug pricing (61 per cent).
Some 3,000 adults in the UK, US, France, Germany, China, and Russia participated in surveys conducted for the study by Opinium Research between April and May this year.
Globally, half (49 per cent) of those who had heard anything about pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic said their view of the industry in general was more positive now than before COVID-19.
But there are big differences between countries. Nine in 10 (89 per cent) in China had a more positive view, compared to just 52 per cent of Britons. People in France (33 per cent) and Germany (35 per cent) were least likely to feel more positive towards the pharma sector.
There are also differences when it comes to people being confident that they are well informed about the industry. The US comes out top on this (59 per cent), closely followed by China (56 per cent), while people in the UK are the least confident (38 per cent).
Pfizer rises as AZ falls
Globally, 63 per cent think the pharma sector is a force for good, compared to 14 per cent who believe it has a negative impact on society.
People in China have the highest positive rating (90 per cent), followed by the UK (63 per cent), while those in Germany feel the least positively towards the industry (51 per cent).
While the pandemic has boosted the profile and reputation of pharma, there are differences between brands.
Of 14 pharma firms looked at, Pfizer had the most positive perception, at +49 per cent, while AstraZeneca had the lowest positive perception, at +18 per cent.
Several senior figures in the industry contributed to the study. One corporate comms lead at a major pharma firm warned that companies need to be more transparent and honest about making a profit.
“Treatments don’t exist without vision and investment,” he said. “The [pharma] industry needs to stop shying away from difficult conversations. Also, the industry talks about ‘patients’ – we are all patients. We need to talk about people instead.”
The chief executive of a major cancer charity stressed the importance of ‘authentic’ comms, warning that people can see through “window dressing and marketing” and that firms “need to think about what they’re doing and get the balance right around commerciality.”
And a government affairs specialist at a major pharma firm admitted: “We’ve never been good at telling stories, we never move beyond pricing.” They added: “This is an opportunity to be front and centre on discussions around public health and talk about the value of medicines.”
A higher purpose
The pandemic has “accelerated progress towards a more compassionate business model, where businesses are finding a purpose beyond purely prioritising profits,” according to the study.
This means a renewed focus on embedding greater environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibility into company culture.
One former UK politician quoted in the study argues that there is a case for moral capitalism in the pharmaceutical sector. “The time has come for companies to have a social purpose and reform in corporate governance is overdue” and “governments need a trusted partner that they know will behave ethically”, he commented.
The way ahead
Kathryn Ager (above), head of health at Grayling UK, told PRWeek: “COVID-19 has presented the pharma industry with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change perceptions with the public, patients and policymakers.”
She warned that a higher public profile “comes with greater scrutiny” and that firms “will need a strong core narrative reflecting values such as excellence, equity and purpose that society has shown us are important.”
(All images except Kathryn Ager: Getty)
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