Credibility: Business Lessons From FDA And CDC

Covid-19 vaccination

Rishell receives the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from Heidi Johnson at Grubb's Pharmacy on April 12, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

 CQ-ROLL CALL, INC VIA GETTY IMAGES

Credibility is the center of the discussion about pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Credibility is vital to all organizations, from the FDA and the CDC to businesses big and small. The current controversy over the wisdom of the pause provides lessons for business leaders. And it’s more fun to learn from others’ mistakes than one’s own.

One side is saying that pausing use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will show our commitment to safety. “But with the stakes as high as they are the last thing you want to do is threaten your credibility,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s state health officer.

On the other side, however, are people who fear that discussing a COVID-19 vaccine’s side effects may cast doubt on all vaccines.

In this multi-sided discussion, though, high marks were earned by the folks who noted that even with the blood clots, taking the vaccine is far, far safer than remaining exposed to COVID-19. (See, for example, Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal citing University of Cambridge analysisNate Silver of 538, or Eric Boehm of Reason Magazine.)

Very low marks go to those who want to use policy to manipulate public opinion. For example, Angela Rasmussen, a virologist affiliated with Georgetown University, said, “I hope others who got J&J will feel reassured that this is a sign that the FDA takes safety extremely seriously, but it doesn’t mean they are at high risk.”

We are overthinking credibility management. Pausing the vaccine to show a commitment to safety does just the opposite: It says that our actions will be based on what promotes our agency’s reputation, not what’s best for the overall health of the country. And nothing can be as destructive to one’s reputation as acting contrary to the stated mission. When “giving an impression” is more important than substance, credibility is unwarranted.

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