For a long time, drug makers have been the most hated industry in America, blamed for gouging prices on lifesaving drugs and enriching themselves through the opioid crisis, among other sins.
Now, with pharmaceutical companies racing to find vaccines to end the coronavirus pandemic, the industry is hoping to redeem itself in the public’s mind.
The primary goal, of course, is to rescue the world from the grips of a vicious virus. But a big fringe benefit is to get public credit — and to use an improved image to fend off government efforts to more heavily regulate the industry.
Consider Johnson & Johnson.
In recent years, its reputation has been battered by accusations that products like its artificial hips and talcum powder have harmed customers. In 2019, an Oklahoma judge ordered the company to pay $572 million for contributing to the opioid epidemic.
This spring, Johnson & Johnson jumped into the hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine; its candidate is in the final stage of clinical trials, though that trial has been paused, the company said on Monday night, after a participant got sick.
Regardless of whether the vaccine ever comes to market, the company is looking to create a surge of positive publicity from its work. Its chief executive, Alex Gorsky, went on the “Today” show this spring and called Johnson & Johnson’s lab workers heroes.
For an industry demonized by consumers and politicians, the hunt for a vaccine “offers a path to redemption,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.
Last fall, a Gallup poll found that drug makers had the worst reputation of any American industry.
The pandemic — and the high hopes for a fast, safe, effective vaccine — appears to be changing that perception. This spring, other opinion polls showed that Americans’ views of the industry were improving.
When Gallup released the results of this year’s annual survey, conducted in the first half of August, the results confirmed that the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation had gotten a bit better. Now, it is second-to-last, having inched past the U.S. government.
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