J&J’s COVID-19 Vaccine Web Series: Taking CSR To A New Level

Starting Tuesday, April 14 at 12 p.m. EDT, Johnson & Johnson will run an eight episode social-first show titled “The Road to a Vaccine” aimed at helping viewers to understand the steps in the process involved developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Hosted by prominent journalist Lisa Ling, the series will feature guests from the medical community, including J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels as well as other experts and front line healthcare workers. In addition, the series will explore larger topics related to the pandemic.

In the face of sometimes conflicting information about the coronavirus and differing opinions on how to best deal with it, I think this educational effort is very timely. In an age where corporate social responsibility has taken on heightened importance, especially for young consumers, a clear effort to educate all consumers on vaccine development and health-related issues surrounding the pandemic represents is an excellent idea that has the potential to make a difference. 

According to Michael Sneed, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs and Chief Communication Officer, J&J has already identified a possible vaccine candidate and is working at an expedited pace in an attempt to safely and effectively introduce a vaccine. Sneed, a graduate of the Tuck School of Business stresses that the company is committed to bringing an affordable vaccine to the public on a not-for-profit basis during this time of emergency. The company also emphasizes that beyond this series, it is collaborating with governments and other organizations around the world to accelerate the development of a vaccine.

While critics may argue that that a profit motive drives J&J’s efforts— and it is true that the U.S. government is putting $456 million behind the effort to develop the vaccine — I believe that J&J has earned the public’s trust. The company is renowned for its credo, which has been in place since 1943. The credo essentially argues that the company has a responsibility to serve and support the health needs of its broad set of stakeholders with the implication that a long-term focus on the public good will generate goodwill for the right reasons and, in turn, lead to profits. While J&J has had a few bumps along the way, it has built up considerable credibility in CSR circles over the years. The credo has perhaps never been more applicable than now. And it should not be forgotten that the company is taking on significant financial risk itself by making a huge investment in research.

I was also interested in why J&J believes that disseminating information on how a vaccine is developed to the public is important. Sneed states that the company feels an educational obligation to a global audience that has heightened curiosity about the process of vaccine research:

“This novel approach to communicating insights about vaccines is a first-of-its-kind for Johnson & Johnson and the broader industry because pharmaceutical development is not usually synonymous with a social-first, digital content series. While we realize this series isn’t “the norm” for our industry, we also recognize that this pandemic creates a need for progress updates, news and answers. Our goal is to inform our audience and bring in the world’s leading scientists, medical experts and others to share their knowledge in an accessible way.” 

Coronavirus COVID-19 development by medical professionals.
Researchers work on a vaccin against the new coronavirus COVID-19. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Michael Sneed also notes that the company also wants to spotlight the contributions of its employees and all front line healthcare workers, many of whom are taking significant risks for the greater good.

As with many viewers, host Lisa Ling indicates that she has a strong interest in the vaccination topic. I asked her if she is finding her involvement in the project to be personally satisfying. Her response:

“Yes- as a journalist, my goal is to inform the public and there’s no greater need to do so than now. Like so many people around the world, I find myself going down the “COVID-19 rabbit hole” whenever I have a minute in between work and my kids’ Zoom classes. I try and absorb as much information as I can, and it’s not lost on me that what we are collectively going through will be in the history books for perpetuity. I’m lucky enough to even have a minor role in showcasing the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.”

Ling also indicates that the show will break down the vaccine development process step-by-step so that it can be easily understood by the layman, as well as giving progress reports to a global audience. 

Clearly, questions such as why the process take a considerable amount of time and what Johnson & Johnson is doing to accelerate the effort will be top of mind for many viewers. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

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