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Black Letter Communications Blog

Expert pr advice for the legal sector

AstraZeneca: the importance of trust and accuracy

After days of negative headlines, last week saw good news on the AstraZeneca vaccine with clinical trial data from the US showing it was 79% effective against symptomatic Covid and 100% effective against severe disease and death.

This news was immediately thrown into doubt when, just a day later, a US health agency expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from the trial, which may have provided ‘an incomplete view of the efficacy data’.

Whilst a few days later additional data confirmed efficacy of the vaccine, showing it was just slightly – but not significantly – less effective than the interim results suggested, the damage was done, eroding trust in the vaccine at a hugely sensitive time.

In PR trust is key. Whether its pharmaceuticals, finance or in our sector – legal PR – accuracy and credibility are vital to reputation. The public expect a lot from these professions and mistakes and errors can do considerable reputational damage.

The second vaccine to publish data showing its effectiveness against Covid, the success of the AstraZeneca vaccine was a cause for celebration across the world.  At the same time, however, mistakes at the announcement stage set up a poor narrative for the vaccine that has dogged the roll out since.

First it was announced the vaccine was 70% effective, compared to Pfizer at 95%.  That was then hastily revised upwards to 90% based on trials that used a lower first dose due to a ‘dosage error’.

This, combined with supply issues and unhelpful rhetoric from EU leaders facing criticism for the slow vaccine roll out, has meant that in Europe in particular, many are hesitant about vaccines and AstraZeneca in particular.

Much of the negative coverage around the world has turned out to be undeserved – the vaccine is safe and effective – but the story of this vaccine shows how important it is to engender trust from the outset.

As soon as doubt is cast on the accuracy and trustworthiness of what you are saying, it’s a downward spiral, inviting speculation and scepticism.

It’s unclear why errors were made in the communications around the vaccine but clearly a rush to publish good news has been part of the mix.

Working in legal PR it is not always easy to be the person in the room holding things up or asking difficult questions about the detail in an announcement.

Whether you are asking to postpone a launch, insisting on double checking what a lawyer has briefed to you on their case or preventing a partner from speaking to their favourite journalist about a new development at the firm, it is worth doing until you are clear that the detailed facts and figures that are going into the public domain are correct.

The AstraZeneca story is a reminder about how hard it is to come back from communications mistakes and to once again build trust in what you are saying.