On December 2nd 2021, the BBC published on its website, its popular news app and in the BBC News at One programme a video interview and an accompanying article under the headline ‘Pfizer boss: Annual Covid jabs for years to come’.
The interview by the BBC’s Medical Editor, Fergus Walsh, conducted as a friendly fireside chat, gave Dr. Albert Bourla, the Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, a free pass promotional opportunity that money cannot buy — as the U.K.’s national public service broadcaster, the BBC is usually prohibited from carrying commercial advertising or product placement.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pfizer made the most of that astonishing opportunity to promote the uptake of its vaccine product. As the BBC’s strapline suggests, the key message relayed by Dr. Bourla, responding to an obediently leading question from Mr. Walsh, was that many more vaccine shots would need to be bought and jabbed to maintain high levels of protection in the U.K. He was speaking shortly before the U.K. Government bought another 54 million doses of the Pfizer vaccines.
Among his explicit and implicit encouragements for the U.K. to order more of his company’s shots, Dr. Bourla commented emphatically about the merits of vaccinating children under 12 years of age, saying, “[So] there is no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely are in favour of doing it [vaccinating five to 11 year-olds in the U.K. and Europe].” No mention of risks or potential adverse events, nor indeed the weighing of any factors other than apparent benefits: Dr. Bourla was straightforwardly convinced that we should immunise millions more children in the U.K. In fact, it later emerged that the BBC’s article had misquoted Dr. Bourla, who in the full video interview recording had ventured the benefits to be “completely completely” in favour of vaccinating young children.
Despite the strength of Dr. Bourla’s unconditional and superlative pitch for vaccinating under-12s, the U.K. regulatory authorities would not authorise the vaccine for use with those children until the very end of 2021; and indeed this came just a few months after the JCVI — the body which advises the Government on whether and when to deploy vaccines in the U.K. — had already declined to advise the Government to roll out a mass vaccination programme for healthy 12 to 15 year-olds on the basis that “the margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15 year-old children”.
In response, soon after the interview aired, UsForThem submitted a complaint to the U.K.’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) — the regulator responsible for policing promotions of prescription medicines in the U.K. The complaint cited the overtly promotional nature of the BBC’s reports and challenged the compliance of Dr. Bourla’s comments about children with the apparently strict rules governing the promotion of medicines in the U.K.