It’s never been more important to talk about vaccines, says head of pharma organisation

Richard Torbett, Chief Executive, ABPI says vaccines are one of our best hopes for eradicating COVID-19 and why the ABPI is launching a campaign to highlight this.

“COVID-19 has put shone a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry like never before.

Millions of people all over the world are living under some form of restrictions.  The organisations who research, develop and manufacture medicines, vaccines and health tech are our best hope of treating, preventing or one day even eradicating the virus.

But as these scientists work around the clock and around the globe to find vaccines and treatments to help bring the pandemic to an end, media and social media is awash with information – and misinformation.

Worryingly, there are signs that trust in vaccination is wavering. We need to take this incredibly seriously. If public trust wanes further this will be yet another long-term impact of the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation cites vaccination as second only to clean water as the most effective public health intervention in the world for saving lives and promoting good health.  Every single year 2 – 3 million lives are saved around the world because of immunisation.1

We know that vaccination programmes are vulnerable to fear and misunderstanding as we have seen with the effects of a high profile – and later discredited study – falsely linking MMR to autism being felt for many years with a drop in immunisation rates.

Late last year the UK lost its ‘measles-free’ status from the WHO, and globally cases nearly tripled in the first seven months of 2019. This prompted the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call on health leaders to take “decisive action” and renew their efforts to ensure 95% of the population gets two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Between 2000 and 2018, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths according to the WHO2. To see a resurgence in the UK of a disease that we have an effective vaccine for is extremely worrying.

Whilst there isn’t a single reason for this, the rise of misinformation online is a key issues that we need to address.

Media reports suggest that one in five in the UK wouldn’t take a Covid-19 vaccine. The ABPI’s own research with IPSOS MORI showed that five percent of people weren’t willing to be vaccinated against any illness or disease.

We need to listen carefully to why people might be concerned.

It normally takes 5-10 years to develop a vaccine; with Covid-19 we’re aiming for 12-18 months. People are right to ask questions about how this can be achieved.

The answer is in the unprecedented scale at which the research is being carried out, using the latest cutting-edge science and running stages of development in parallel. Companies, research institutes and academics from all over the world are focussing their efforts entirely on a pandemic which has brought the world to its knees.

Advances in vaccine science and companies joining forces to work in new and collaborative ways such as sharing portfolios and technology is also speeding up the process.

It’s important to stress that no corners will ever be cut in the search for a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine.

Vaccines face strict regulations which reflect that they are likely to be given to millions of healthy people.

We have a responsibility to tell that story.  It’s vital that among all of the noise, misinformation and fear generated by the coronavirus that we get the facts out there. That vaccines have a massive role to play to patients, the NHS and the economies of countries all over the world, through preventing disease and keeping people health.

If we can help tell the story of what our industry does – how medicines and vaccines are discovered, and the strict regulations that surround the process, we stand in a much better place to beat the virus when a vaccine is found.

That’s why we are launching a digital campaign to showcase this work.

Pharmaceutical companies have decades of experience in the research, development and manufacturing of vaccines.

We haven’t always been the best at telling our story, but we have huge role to play in helping the public to understand the vital role of vaccines in society.”


Follow the ABPI’s campaign #ValuingVaccines,



[1] WHO Global Immunisation Factsheet, July 2020

[2] WHO Measles Factsheet, Dec 2019



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