As concerns about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to grow and more and more countries move away from it, a comment appeared below the line this morning from “sophie123” that offers insight into the role big pharmaceutical companies are playing in the crisis and the psychology behind the actions of their employees that we thought was worth putting up here.
I work for Big Pharma. I am senior enough to know the executive team pretty well. Some very well.
They are not all good people, by any means – you don’t climb up the greasy pole by being filled with altruism to fellow man. But there’s no overarching evil plot to foist dangerous medicines on people. That is overly simplistic.
What I do see, that has contributed to the situation we are in and I have no doubt is any different at any of the other big pharma companies (execs at which I also know many of):
1) In the UK and US at least, a degree of complicity with what politicians want them to do (because governments ultimately can control pricing, taxes/tax breaks, regulation, all of which impact on stock price, and hand out gongs in the UK). This has many repercussions, and no doubt vaccines that might have been pulled under normal circumstances have continued to be used as a result. Political interference in a space politicians know little about combined with pharma spinelessness in the face of this interference can be very toxic.
2) A desire to be seen as “better” than the other Big Pharma companies. They are not all in cahoots with each other, and some are direct commercial competition. They work on mutual interests together to lobby government (primarily how to stop the US implementing price controls) but there’s as much politicking between CEOs as there is with governments. They mostly hate each other and love it when another company screws up in some way, not necessarily for competitive commercial reasons, but because it makes their failures in the eyes of institutional shareholders look less bad in comparison.
But anyway, they’re not some evil cabal cooking up plots to poison the world together. They are superficially cordial but actually all hate one another.
3) Stock price performance is seen as a measure of their success, and it will trump anything else. So any new information that might damage the share price, if it can be stalled or quashed, will be. Only when it’s absolutely necessary will there be a facing of the facts and transparency. Different companies draw the line in different places here. It’s not evil though. I’d liken it to being in denial, like a wife whose husband is working late every night, has a dubious explanation for the lipstick on his collar, denies to herself that anything could be amiss until she catches him and his lover in bed together and can’t ignore it any longer.
The head-in-the-sand approach can be pervasive throughout organisations, especially if there is a “shoot the messenger” culture (which there often is, as like I say, to climb the greasy pole you need to be a bit of an arsehole and shooting messengers is a common enough arsehole trait). So if side effect data start emerging that is not favourable, everybody is hoping and praying it will turn out to be nothing, and start to talk themselves into “it’s nothing”, and only when the evidence becomes incontrovertible is anything done. And then often too slowly. In a good company culture though, the right steps should be taken and personally I have never seen any egregious breaches of appropriate escalation. In the past, that certainly hasn’t always been the case, and many fines have resulted.
4) Boards are lazy. Their oversight is abysmal. They focus on trivialities and processes, rather than ensuring ethics are adhered to. Mostly they are interested in the quality of catering at board meetings and whether someone has printed off their boarding pass for their first class flight home, rather than board matters (they’re largely old, and don’t do electronic boarding cards).
5) Being a pharma industry person does not make you immune to Government/BBC fear tactics, sadly. They are as susceptible to the mainstream narrative as anyone else. Many people don’t seem to have even stopped and thought about this for more than a few minutes, and took the “deadly unprecedented virus to which we are all susceptible” at face value and look at you like you’re smoking something if you dare to suggest it may have been a tiny bit exaggerated.
6) They will only do things that make money, or might make them money in future. They are not charitable organisations. Drug development is risky and expensive, and shareholders want their returns. Sounds obvious, but it underpins everything and people seem to forget that at times.
Stop Press: The Times of Israel is reporting on a leaked Israeli Health Ministry report into the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine that raises “concerns that there could be a link between the second shot and several dozen cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, particularly in men under 30”. Sixty two cases of myocarditis have been found out of five million vaccinated with two deaths, but no direct link has been established, according to the newspaper. (See more on Lockdown Sceptics.)