From Edward Segal, writing in Forbes…
The decision to put the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on pause in the U.S. after six cases of blood clotting were linked to women who took the shot has forced the company to deal with yet another crisis situation. Hours after the pause was announced, the company said it would delay rolling out the vaccine in Europe.
Public trust in Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine dropped dramatically and quickly. According to a new poll from The Economist/YouGov, 52% of those polled before the announced pause in the U.S. said the vaccine was safe. After Tuesday’s announcement, that number plummeted to 37%, and 39% said they thought the vaccine was “unsafe.”
In a statement on their website, Johnson & Johnson said, “The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our Covid-19 vaccine.
“We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public.”
Johnson & Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
J & J has weathered other PR storms in its 135-year history, ranging from the deaths in 1982 of seven people who took extra-strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide to a 2018 report by Reuters that the company had known for decades that the raw material in talcum powder could be contaminated with asbestos but tried to cover it up. The report triggered a 10% drop in the company’s stock price. J&J called that report “false and inflammatory,” according to NPR.
Observers said there are several ways Johnson & Johnson could recover from their latest crisis.
Lindsay Singleton is a crisis communication expert and managing director of public affairs firm ROKK Solutions. She said, “J & J needs to address this crisis head on by first humanizing it and then describing the steps they are taking to ensure the vaccine is safe.
“They should develop a concise message track along these lines and deploy their CEO to deliver this message. They should also identify outside allies who can echo this messaging, as the value of the message increases with repetition,” she recommended.
“It’s important to remember that the public trust deficit can quickly spread to policymakers and has already spread to investors,” Singleton advised. “The public efforts will help the company avoid calls for a congressional investigation, but J & J should supplement their messaging with behind-the-scenes information sharing with the Biden administration and Capitol Hill leaders to mitigate all sides of the crisis.”
“Though we’ve largely hidden the process of drug discovery and vaccination development from the general public, the company can build trust now by exposing more of that process,” according to Margot Bloomstein, who is a strategic consultant and the author of Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap.
She advised Johnson & Johnson to:
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