- Weber Shandwick is helping run communications around the vaccine program
- But the PR group is already working for Moderna, and has worked for Pfizer
- Critics slammed the CDC’s hire today as ‘irresponsible’, it was revealed
A PR company that represents Pfizer and Moderna has staff ’embedded’ in the CDC‘s vaccine division, it has emerged.
New York-based firm Weber Shandwick has been responsible for elevating Pfizer’s profile since at least 2006. It partnered with Moderna in June this year, after the small biotech firm became a household name following its vaccine success.
Yet questions are being raised about a possible conflict of interest as it emerged the company was hired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the pandemic to boost its ‘health communication’.
It was involved in PR campaigns that encouraged Americans to get vaccinated against Covid.
But a spokesperson for Weber Shandwick told DailyMail.com it had a ‘thorough vetting and mitigation process to avoid conflicts’.
Vaccine makers made more than $34billion in profits last year from the Covid jabs alone — equivalent to $1,000 a second, according to estimates.
They are expected to make billions more from the bivalent booster jabs being rolled out this winter — with the US having bought 171million doses.
Today the updated shots — which tackle Omicron variants — got the green light for children as young as five years old. They are currently recommended for all over-12s.
Weber Shandwick works for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).
The potential conflict of interest was brought to attention in a LinkedIn post by an employee of the PR firm last year.
They wrote on the social media site: ‘So excited to be starting a new role today! I’m joining Weber Shandwick as an Account Director supporting a contract I know well, at the CDC’s NCIRD!’
Another employee replied: ‘Welcome back to the team!’
In 2020 Weber Shandwick also won an up to $50million contract from the US Government to promote flu vaccines to the public.
Its responsibilities included distributing social media posts and articles promoting vaccines, and sending press releases to the media.
It was also involved in ‘paid media placement’, a common euphemism for advertising.
The firm was employed by Moderna in June this year alongside two other PR firms to promote its mRNA vaccine – despite being a direct rival to Pfizer.
Weber Shandwick is also a long-time client of Pfizer’s, having been brought on back in 2003 to assist with marketing around Viagra pills and other treatments.
Responding to DailyMail.com today, a spokesperson for Weber Shandwick said: ‘We are proud of the important work we do to advance public health.
‘When we work for organizations in the same sector, we have a thorough vetting and mitigation process to avoid conflicts, including legal review, separate and distinct teams and strong confidentiality protocols.’
DailyMail.com has approached the CDC for comment.
Craig Holman, a lobbyist on Capitol Hill for Public Citizen, blasted the CDC today for the conflict of interest.
‘This is irresponsible of CDC to issue a PR contract to Weber Shandwick,’ he told the site DisInformation. ‘Knowing that the firm also works for Moderna and Pfizer’.
Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs have formed the cornerstone of America’s vaccine roll out, with more than 800million doses ordered at a cost of more than $10billion.
The two companies were also the only ones to sell updated bivalent booster shots to America this year — which target Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.
More than 42million doses of these have been delivered so far, at a cost that is yet to be revealed.
But the bivalent jab rollout has got off to a slow start despite calls from the White House for everyone to get doses.
Just six per cent of all over-12s have come forward.
Meanwhile, today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed it was expanding eligibility of the new vaccine to young children.
It gave the green-light for Moderna’s updated shot to be given to six year olds, and Pfizer’s to those as young as five.
This will still need to be signed off by the CDC, but suggests that the beleaguered program will be expanded to more age groups.
The beleaguered CDC saw public trust in the agency erode during the Covid pandemic after a litany of errors.
It was slow to recommend face masks in the early days, or to warn that Covid was likely spreading through the air.
Later in the pandemic it has also signed off on Covid vaccines for children as young as six months old.
The move has faced criticism from many experts because of the vanishingly small risk very young children face of death or serious disease from the virus.