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What if Astra Zeneca had responded to the media?

Be prepared for a media onslaught

If, like me, you, would have wanted to be part of the Wimbledon Centre Court standing ovation for Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team who produced the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine you’ll have surely had some sympathy with them after the battering they received from those across the globe who would gainsay their achievement. The trouble is, like most scientists, they were probably unprepared for the media onslaught whipped up by those who wanted to do them down for political interests or to promote their own vaccines. Instead, they preferred it would seem to “Let the facts speak for themselves.”

The fact are seldom pure, and never simple

But as Oscar Wilde said, “The facts are seldom pure, and never simple.”  And it is in sowing that seed of doubt that the likes of Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin were able to rubbish with some success the “British” vaccine; Macron to buy time for what turned out to be the largely useless, but gloriously French, Sanofi product, and Putin to push, particularly to developing countries, the Russian Sputnik V jab on which the efficacy jury is still out.

Explaining complex messages to the man on the Clapham omnibus

There was a time when medical conferences, invariably funded by Big [Bad] Pharma, and designed primarily to bring medics together so they could share ideas and research findings, also offered media training as an adjunct to these otherwise dry-as-dust events. Aziz Corporate media trainers regularly participated. We showed delegates how to get public health messages across on radio and television, how to explain complex research to the man on the Clapham omnibus, how to pitch competitively for new research funds and, yes, how to defend themselves in the face of know-nothing and often politically motivated onslaughts.  Often the docs held their noses.  Why should they be exposed to such unfairness?  Why indeed? Well, it’s just about coping with the world as it is, rather than as it should be.

Funding needs to be transparent

For some years now the pharmaceutical companies have been precluded from funding such training by the regulators who saw it as some kind of “inducement.”  And yet we know from our own experience of media training the regulators that they think they need it for themselves and are prepared to pay for it from their taxpayer funded budgets – so that’s OK then.

So, the Oxford team were left somewhat exposed to all the criticisms documented in the Guardian article.  Someone in their team, and indeed more than just one person, should have been able to stick up for them and for that they would need training.  But who will pay?

When it comes to funding what’s needed is transparency.  After all, media training is designed simply to help people say what they mean, and mean what they say. Otherwise they are just lambs to the slaughter.


Professor Khalid Aziz

Khalid Aziz is the chairman of Aziz Corporate.


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About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 30 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

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