July 3, 2023 - 3:15pm

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer financed groups lobbying for Covid-19 vaccine mandates, the investigative reporter Lee Fang has claimed. Speaking to UnHerd’s Florence Read, Fang discussed a recent report he wrote in which he uncovered the Chicago Urban League’s acceptance of a special $100,000 donation from Pfizer that was not publicly disclosed. Fang suggested that such a lack of disclosure could have a particularly negative impact on African Americans, who have historically been victims of medical malpractice in the US.

“Notably, the Chicago Urban League does a very good job in disclosing almost every single corporate donation to their website, except Pfizer’s,” Fang stated. When inspecting Pfizer’s website, Fang discovered that the corporation donated money not only to expected organisations such as the American Lung Association but also to the likes of the American Academy of Paediatrics and the National Black Nurses Association. Such donations to black-run organisations could be understood as an encouragement for working-class African Americans who have “the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy”, he said.

This is not the first time Pfizer has promoted its drugs to high-profile institutions. In 2009, the organisation was prosecuted by the US Justice Department for “engaging in illegal off-label promotion of their drugs” and “encouraging doctors to prescribe the drugs where there was no kind of regulatory authority”. According to Fang, these donations undermine trust in such institutions: “Are they acting as a representative of the community? Or are they acting as corporate lobbyists, as organisations acting in the interests of their donors?”

In light of the way the pharmaceutical industry influences academia and scientific research, Fang believes that transparency is essential. Organisations that receive money from Big Pharma are committed to this relationship because it improves their regulatory and political reputations. For this reason, “in terms of the public interest, it’s important to have disclosure”.

The investigative reporter also commented on the “slugfest of finger-pointing and name-calling” in the American media when it comes to Covid vaccines. This split boils down to the political Left accepting mandates without “debating the science or discussing the efficacy” of the policy, while the Right-wing narrative “sometimes drifts towards conspiracy theory, or it exaggerates the adverse effects of the vaccine”. In order to get beyond such divides, Fang emphasised the need for a “thoughtful” and “public” debate.

Media partisanship on these issues is a largely new phenomenon, the Substacker told UnHerd. Citing the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Financial Times, Fang explained that his previous trust in the establishment press has eroded in the aftermath of the pandemic. “Your job [as a journalist] isn’t to look around the room and nod along with everyone else. Your job, even if it’s unpopular, is to pursue the truth,” he argued.

There is reason for optimism, however. On the future of politics, Fang pointed to the GOP’s pursuit of what were once liberal causes, such as scrutiny of the FBI. What’s more, he highlighted the Red-Blue alliance in California which proposes some of the “most thoughtful regulations to counter the power of Big Tech”, a move which is “unprecedented”. In the realm of Big Pharma, this newfound distrust may lead “to a better form of ethics, a better form of medicine, and reformulated institutions that actually serve the public interest, not the bottom line of pharmaceutical companies”.

is UnHerd’s editorial trainee.