Is pharma's public perception picking up around COVID-19? New poll shows first signs

20 April 2020

Beth Snyder Bulik / FiercePharma

The public perception of the pharma industry may be starting to turn, thanks to concerted COVID-19-related efforts. New data on American views from APCO Worldwide surfaced a few bright spots for pharma, including public hope and optimism for treatments and vaccines.

One glimmer? While almost half (48%) of Americans have not yet changed their image of pharmaceutical companies as a result of the way the companies are reacting to the pandemic, among the half that did change, people were two times more likely to feel positively toward the industry.

Jack Kalavritinos, a senior director at APCO who advises clients on healthcare communications, policy and advocacy, said the handful of pharma insights uncovered in the broader surveys of Americans across healthcare and vaccines may indicate the first signs of a shift in consumer attitude. 

For instance, 58% of survey respondents said U.S. companies are more likely to create breakthrough therapies, while 68% were optimistic that a treatment would be developed for COVID-19.

“That shows me this hopeful attitude, and almost enthusiasm, about what companies can do to solve this problem. And what a change that is from years of people basically beating up on pharmaceutical companies,” Kalavritinos said.

While the APCO survey was a first-time poll and therefore there's no benchmark to compare it with, the pharma industry’s dismal public perception over the past few years is no secret. The annual Gallup poll of American opinions about 25 different industries last fall found pharma ranking last, its lowest score in the history of the poll. Americans were more than twice as likely (58%) to rate the pharma industry negatively than positively (27%).

The annual Edelman trust barometer poll in 2019 found similar problems with consumer perception. While pharma notched a six-point increase in the U.S. year over year to reach a score of 44, it was still not enough to move the industry out of “untrusted” territory. Edelman begins "neutral" ratings at 50, and "trusted" begins at 60.

While many agree it’s too early in the COVID-19 crisis to know whether pharma’s efforts to find treatments and develop vaccines—as well as its donations of relief funds and supplies—will turn its reputation around, even a glint of change, as the APCO data provides, lends optimism.

Kalavritinos is encouraged by “the steady stream of hopeful, good news in the midst of a crisis for an industry that has been under the gun from both sides of the aisle," he said.

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