As the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of relenting, the number of patients and hospital admissions is again on the up. Across the UK, cases rose to a seven-day average1 of 22,680 at the start of November, compared to 4,335 at the start of April, while the death toll has surpassed 50,000 – making the UK the fifth highest in terms of death toll2 after the USA, Brazil, India and Mexico.
As a result, lockdown measures across the United Kingdom have been enacted firstly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with England following suit with an initial one-month national lockdown in a bid to reduce cases and ease pressure on the NHS.
To curb the number of cases, some, including former prime minister, Tony Blair, have called on the Oxford Vaccine to be deployed3 as it had been shown to have a degree of effectiveness. However, more significant developments could now see the NHS administering a vaccine en masse in the coming winter months. As the correct infrastructure and capabilities are hurriedly put in place for mass inoculation, there is something being missed which could hamper these efforts; public and patient concerns.
Hope on the horizon
During the week that I write this, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that a vaccine candidate it has helped develop with BioNTech was found to initially be 90% effective on 43,500 people in preventing COVID-19. This is due to undergo further testing before being submitted to the FDA for emergency authorisation.
There are hopes this vaccine could be the cure for the pandemic the world desperately craves, indeed, the EU has ordered 300 million doses alone. Whilst in the UK, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, instructed the NHS to prepare for providing mass vaccinations from December 1st. It is an effort which would see up to 1,500 GP practices and drive through centres, as well as football stadiums, town halls and conference centres utilised to administer around 5,000 jabs a week.
Huge practical preparations are being made to prepare for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine to be rolled out, but the public trust issues and scepticism towards the pharmaceutical industry and a vaccine could limit these efforts for a rollout.
The trust deficit
For years, we’ve seen a mistrust of big pharma come to the fore. Events in recent months have stoked these fires, with thousands attending protests claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic is a conspiracy.
This uncertainty does not just roam in the domain of the so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’, but ordinary people too. DrugsDisclosed.com recently researched 1,022 people in the UK suffering from chronic illnesses.
The findings raised significant points which need to be addressed by pharma companies:
- In total, 93% of patients questioned stated they do not trust advice from pharmaceutical companies about their medication.
- 81% feel ignored by these same companies.
- An additional 68% of patients expressed a desire to be able to feedback their experiences to the pharma companies, but there was no way for them to do so.
These findings reveal that beyond the ‘anti-vaxxer’ group, many patients have a degree of mistrust of the pharma industry and feel ignored and disconnected to the companies, despite being the real-world end-users of the products they are producing.
On a positive note, these statistics also show that there is a real appetite for patients to engage with the industry and enter into a dialogue, but at the face of it, this doesn’t seem possible. This is creating a wedge between the two groups.
“Throughout all of these efforts, we’ve seldom seen patient concerns addressed or listened to. Now we’re expecting them to turn up in droves for this vaccine, which many are likely to be sceptical of”
Significant groundwork is being carried out to get the infrastructure for a mass vaccine rollout in place, but this could be undone by overlooking one simple factor: the patients themselves.
Throughout all of these efforts, we’ve seldom seen patient concerns addressed or listened to. Now we’re expecting them to turn up in droves for this vaccine, which many are likely to be sceptical of.
Recent research of UK patients with chronic illnesses and those most at risk from COVID-19, revealed that vaccine hesitancy will be a significant hurdle to overcome in order to ensure its effectiveness.
The findings revealed 54% of patients would not take a vaccine until at least a year of testing while 74% would not allow their children to be vaccinated until it was tested for a year. Elsewhere, a newspaper poll4 found that 40% of the UK public wanted politicians to take this new vaccine before they would consider taking it.
With such a significant level of hesitancy, the government and big pharma companies such as Pfizer need to heed patient concerns to maximise the effect of a rollout.
Bridging the gap
Pharmaceutical companies and governments are in a hurry to get a new vaccine on the market with no dialogue exchanged with those that will need to take it. Perhaps the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is the silver bullet the world needs to defeat the pandemic, but we need to address patient scepticism and hesitancy first. This is not a trust in government issue, moreover, it is a trust in the pharma industry issue.
Pharmaceutical companies opening themselves up to patient insight will help dispel hesitancy with taking a vaccine. What is crucial, is that they must start today rather than waiting until the vaccine is ready to deal with this issue. With this likely to be soon, time is quickly running out.
Claus Møldrup is co-founder of DrugsDisclosed.com and CEO of DrugStars. Go to www.drugsdisclosed.com