Celebrity Doctors Being Paid to Promote Vaccines is Against the Law

One of the most critical concerns in medicine is the massive influence of the pharmaceutical industry over the medical profession. Our antivirals series has shown this pervasive action.

Bias exists when professional judgements from registered medical practitioners concerning a primary interest, such as the welfare of patients, may be influenced by secondary interests, such as financial gain or loss. Conflicts of interest can affect how healthcare professionals use, see and interpret evidence. Conflicts of interest, perceived or real, can also cause a huge loss of public trust in medicine, healthcare and government.

When it became clear that TV doctors Ranj Singh, Nighat Arif and Philippa Kaye had all received thousands of pounds in contracted service fees from AstraZeneca, there was, unsurprisingly, an outpouring of concern. All three doctors had been vocal in their public support for COVID-19 vaccines, of which AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria was one of the first to become available and widely used in the U.K.

All three have insisted, via X, that their payments were for promotional work relating to AstraZeneca’s nasal flu vaccine in winter 2021 only and not their COVID-19 vaccine. The Human Medicines Regulations state that celebrity endorsement of drugs is not allowed, so it is unclear how this campaign stayed on the right side of the legislation.

Whether an individual doctor’s paid promotion of a vaccine for a respiratory disease should be considered a conflict of interest when publicly recommending other vaccines for respiratory disease is probably a debate for another day.

According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)’s Disclosures U.K. database, AstraZeneca’s payment of £12,500 to Dr. Philippa Kaye was declared in 2020. Since then, Dr. Kaye has publicly supported AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and downplayed side-effects generally from all COVID-19 vaccines, saying the side-effects “are a good thing” and “your body showing you that its immune system is working”.

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