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Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in 2021 made numerous grants to medical associations, consumer groups and civil rights organizations for the purpose of creating the appearance of widespread support for COVID-19 vaccine mandates, investigative journalist Lee Fang reported.
As the vaccine mandates rolled out in 2021, Pfizer stayed quiet on the question of mandates — but public health groups, patient advocacy groups, doctors’ associations, community groups and others, along with the Biden administration, actively advocated for vaccine mandates as a key measure to protect public health.
New disclosures from Pfizer, posted by Fang on his Substack, show that many of these same groups were taking money from Pfizer while they promoted the idea that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines were “safe and effective,” despite a lack of scientific data to back those claims.
Prominent groups on the extensive list of those who took Pfizer funding while pushing the mandates included the Chicago Urban League, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Consumers League, The Immunization Partnership, the American Pharmacists Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, the American Society for Clinical Pathology and the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Many groups did not disclose their ties to Pfizer.
“[These groups] set the nature of the debate,” Fang told comedian and political commentator Russell Brand on a recent episode of “Stay Free.” “They appear in the news media, they create events and they create a discourse that looks authentic, that looks organic, but it benefits the bottom line of their benefactors, of companies like Pfizer.”
Fang said many of these organizations, particularly civil rights organizations like the Chicago Urban League or the National Consumers League — which actually has a Pfizer lobbyist on its board — have powerful influence precisely because of their independent status.
When these groups speak out, Fang said:
“It affects how regulators see these issues and how the public sees them. When they see these third-party groups that have some credibility — these are famous organizations that are known for standing up for the public interest.
“When they say ‘hey these mandates are a good idea for the American public,’ it seems genuine.
“But they aren’t disclosing the Pfizer money, which is a relevant factor when you are talking about a policy that compels Americans to take this product.”
After the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in early 2021, vaccine mandates followed in different forms across the country.
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Defense mandated vaccines for military personnel, and the Biden administration mandated vaccines for federal contractors and for all employers with 100 employees or more — the latter was struck down in federal court.
Universities mandated vaccination for students and staff, and many public and private employers across the country mandated vaccination for their employees.
Several school districts across the country planned to mandate vaccination for children to attend school, but most of those plans have since been rolled back.
Those who instituted mandates justified them by asserting that mass vaccination — and only mass vaccination — would “stop the spread” of COVID-19.
But it has since been revealed that in March 2021, when Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky publicly and unequivocally stated on MSNBC that vaccinated people would not get sick, there was no evidence to support her statement.
In fact, the CDC had to walk back the statement a few days later.
Biden also falsely claimed that the vaccinated would not get infected — in July 2021, just before COVID-19 vaccine mandates went into effect.
The vaccine makers have since acknowledged they never tested whether the vaccines would stop transmission, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that vaccinated people in both Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials contracted the virus.
Big Pharma’s big reach
Pfizer isn’t the only actor in Big Pharma that quietly funds third parties to do its work.
Fang told The Defender that “Many pharmaceutical firms covertly shape public opinion and regulations through the use of front groups and financial relationships with community organizations.”
As for Pfizer, Fang said, third-party funding is just one of the many strategies the drugmaker deployed to drive COVID-19 policymaking.
“Pfizer flexed its lobbying muscles around many COVID-19 policies, including efforts to curb drug-pricing initiatives and a bid to prevent the creation of generic COVID medications,” he said, adding, “The vaccine mandate debate is yet another example of Pfizer’s reach into public policy.”
Big Pharma — along with the Biden administration and its intermediaries — also lobbied to suppress those who questioned the vaccine program.
Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to set moderation rules that would flag purported COVID-19-related “misinformation,” as part of the effort to drive the national conversation about the COVID-19 vaccines, Fang reported as part of the “Twitter files.”
“Pharma is unique in the raw amount of money they spend to control the entire public sector on regulatory, on policy, on everything in terms of how it affects medicine as it is practiced in the United States,” Fang said.
The pharmaceutical and health products lobby is one of the biggest industry lobbies. According to OpenSecrets.org, last year alone the industry spent $372 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, outspending every other industry — and each year it increases its spending.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla is on the board of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the top individual lobbying spender in the industry, which spent $29.2 million last year. Pfizer itself spent more than any other drug company.
The industry also spends massive amounts of money on advertising. Pfizer alone spent nearly $2.8 billion on advertising for all of its products in 2022.
The COVID-19 vaccines netted $37.8 billion for Pfizer in 2022, up from $36.7 billion in 2021. The company’s overall earnings hit a record $100 billion.
Big Pharma and the CDC did similar work to promote mandates and vaccination
There is a “revolving door” between pharma industry lobbyists and the government — nearly 65% of lobbyists formerly worked for the government.
And the strategies used to build support for Big Pharma’s products are some of the same strategies used by federal government agencies like the CDC.
Since 2021 — the same time Pfizer started funding community groups — the CDC has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants for the creation of “culturally tailored” pro-vaccine materials and for training “influential messengers” to promote COVID-19 and flu vaccines to communities of color in every state across the country.
For those grants, the CDC sought out community organizations that would communicate the CDC’s message without the CDC’s trademark, so the messages would appear to come organically from within local communities rather than from the government, particularly among communities of color.
In another case, the CDC hired a public relations firm to write what looked like news articles but were actually ad placements created to persuade parents of young children and elderly people — with a focus on Spanish speakers — to get vaccinated.
Both Pfizer and the CDC used their funding to target black and Latino communities that had lower vaccination rates. In one case, they both funded the same organization — the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA).
According to Fang, the organization worked with a public relations firm called Culture ONE World to distribute “press releases and media placements” that “called on employers of essential workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines.”
Fang also wrote that the NHMA also signed joint statements lobbying in favor of Biden’s vaccine mandate and that “it received $30,000 from BIO [Biotechnology Innovation Organization], a vaccine industry lobby group that represents Pfizer and Moderna, IRS filings show.”
The Defender found that NHMA received $2,070,000 in two annual grants so far for their “Vacunas! Si Se Puede, Immunization Campaign for Hispanics” program, which later became “We Can Do This,” to create culturally tailored content to be circulated throughout Latino communities.
American Academy of Pediatrics received multiple grants from Pfizer in 2021
The AAP also appeared on Fang’s list of notable organizations that received direct Pfizer funding.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics was one of the most visible organizations working to build public support for vaccine mandates. The organization received multiple, specialized grants from Pfizer in 2021.
“Pfizer also provided grants to individual state chapters of the AAP earmarked for lobbying on vaccine policy. The Ohio AAP chapter, for instance, lobbied the Ohio legislature against bills to curb coercive COVID-19 vaccine policies, while receiving an ‘immunization legislation’ advocacy grant from Pfizer.”
Beyond its COVID-19 vaccine mandate work, the organization also was a public advocate for COVID-19 vaccines for children. Its then-president, UCLA professor Moira Szilagyi, M.D., Ph.D., publicly advocated, on media outlets such as CNN, for vaccinating children.
The organization, “dedicated to the health of all children,” previously issued policy guidance to its members stating that it is an “acceptable option to pediatric care clinicians to dismiss families who refuse vaccines.”
And in June 2022, the AAP issued a press release applauding the CDC’s recommendation of “safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines” for babies as young as 6 months old, despite concerns raised — by the FDA vaccine advisory commission, among many others — regarding a lack of clinical data for the vaccines in children.
In addition to the Pfizer funding, the AAP receives much of its funding directly from the CDC, raising questions about the organization’s ability to act independently, particularly with respect to vaccine recommendations, BMJ editor Peter Doshi wrote in 2017.