The pharmaceutical company Pfizer is now trying its hand at online memes, posting a cartoonish tweet seeking to combat misinformation about the vaccines. But while the welcoming arms of science in the comic strip might be able to draw the human brain away from wild conspiracy theories, one problem remains: Pfizer is still bankrolling the “wild conspiracy theories,” via its position as a corporate sponsor of Fox News.
According to Media Matters internal data, Pfizer has run at least 289 advertisements on Fox News this year, up through October 31. But not only has Fox undermined the vaccination campaigns on a nearly daily basis — with a recent poll also showing the extent to which Fox-promoted misinformation has penetrated among Republicans — its commentators have also been biting the hand that feeds them, with direct attacks against Pfizer itself.
During a conversation Tuesday with the Atlantic Council, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called people “criminals” who have taken advantage of the natural fears and doubts some people have had about the vaccines.
“Those that don’t get the vaccine, they’re afraid of the vaccine and they are mad with the people that are pressing them to get it,” Bourla told the Atlantic Council. “Those I understand. They are very good people. They are decent people. But they had a fear, and I understand it, and they don’t want to take chances.”
By contrast, he said, others are guilty of causing serious harm: “But there is a very small part of professionals [who] circulate, on purpose, misinformation so that they will mislead those that they have concerns [with the vaccine]. Those people are criminals. They’re not bad people. They are criminals because they literally cost millions of lives.”
Bourla’s comments, whether or not he intended, could have described Fox News perfectly. The network has sought to elevate vaccine refusers to the status of culture war heroes, but at the corporate level, the network also clearly does not believe the misinformation it is selling. The company has instituted vaccination and testing mandates at its own offices — as well as at its corporate shareholder meeting. But according to Fox insiders, the COVID-19 lies have been “great for ratings.”
And on Tuesday night’s edition of Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham directly attacked Bourla, calling him “the multi-billionaire CEO of Pfizer,” for having said during his Atlantic Council appearance that booster shots for COVID-19 could become a regular occurrence every nine to 12 months.
“Now, why would he want that, the CEO of Pfizer?” Ingraham said mockingly. “It's not like he has any vested interest in saying that about every nine months, get a shot.”
And last week, Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy attacked a Pfizer ad campaign that celebrated the children who had participated in the vaccination studies, declaring she was “sick of the propaganda coming from big pharma and big government.”
“Your child's health is so fundamental,” she further added, “that anyone would step in and do commercials that are really geared at children is just unfathomable.”
Previously, when the Pfizer vaccine received full FDA approval in August, Fox News personalities largely treated this as bad news, complaining that people were “not allowed to ask questions anymore.” Some also suggested that the approval had come too fast or may have been used by the Biden administration as a tool for political distraction from other issues.
And when Pfizer announced in September that it would be submitting data to regulatory agencies on vaccine testing in children ages 5 to 11, the network fearmongered about profits being put ahead of “kids’ safety,” as well as suggesting the vaccines could damage long-term fertility.
And just two weeks ago, Fox host Tucker Carlson attacked the upcoming authorization of vaccines for children by lying about the clinical trials and safety studies. “This is lunacy on the merits, according to the science, and people around the country are starting to figure that out,” Carlson declared.
The real lunacy, however, may be the fact that Pfizer is continuing to bankroll a company that keeps pushing anti-vaccine demagoguery because it’s “great for ratings.”