AstraZeneca botches vaccine announcement In late November, pharmaceutical compa

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AstraZeneca botches vaccine announcement
In late November, pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced that it had developed (in partnership with Oxford University) a Covid-19 vaccine that was up to 90% effective in countering the virus. Taken together with the announcement a few days earlier of a Pfizer vaccine of similar efficacy, the announcement prompted a wave of optimism that the coronavirus pandemic that had disrupted life for almost a year might soon be over.
But within days, the company acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, raising questions about whether claims about the vaccine’s efficacy would be supported by additional testing. The New York Times reported that “scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results.”
Given the general mistrust of vaccines that has been on the rise in western countries for a decade, and the sheer volume of politically-motivated misinformation about the pandemic, anything that increased skepticism about the Covid vaccine clearly had the potential to create a significant problem.
“I think that they have really damaged confidence in their whole development program,” said Geoffrey Porges, an analyst for the investment bank SVB Leerink.
“We can definitely say that the transparency from Oxford and AstraZeneca has not been on a par with what we have seen from the others,” said Rasmus Bech Hansen, chief executive of Airfinity, a London-based life sciences analytics company.
While medical and scientific experts generally defended the company—emphasizing the complex issues involved in releasing highly-technical information to the general public, the company didn’t do itself any favors when Menelas Pangalos, an executive responsible for the company’s research and development, responded to questions about why information had not been shared with the public by telling the reporter: “I think the best way of reflecting the results is in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, not in a newspaper.”
From a technical and scientific perspective, that’s probably true. From a communications perspective, however, it’s completely unhelpful. The critical issue is whether the vaccine is trusted and taken by the general public—many of whom are profoundly skeptical. Those people don’t read peer-reviewed journals; they get their news from newspapers and television and social media—and that’s where issues need to be addressed. — PH
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