Pfizer’s Birth Control Recall

We decided to do our analysis on the current crisis in the media regarding the recent recall of Pfizer’s birth control pills.

Here is some background information on the company:

Pfizer’s has been the dominant force in the pharmaceutical business for several years now. Norgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol are not their only products but Pfizer has created every product that ranges from Advil to Viagra, creating over 40 products, which distributes to over 10 countries. Current CEO Ian Read has been CEO for less than 3 years currently but has been with the company for over 30 years. Pfizer’s success has been dominant in many way’s creating several mergers, which led to their billion dollar status, along with the success with each of their divisions, which include Human Health and Animal Health divisions.

Please read the following press release that was issued on Pfizer’s website:

Please also watch the following video from the Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall:

Please watch this video on coverage of the story:

Finally, please watch this video which briefly talks about the last recall:

By reading and watching the above links you should get a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Pfizer came to the conclusion that there were 30 packs of birth control pills that received an inaccurate count and as a result of that there were one million packs that were removed from shelves. Pfizer also notified the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The media and news were notified and the word spread so that the public was aware. They recommended that women who have been using these pills should consult with their physician and begin using a non-hormonal barrier method immediately. Women were also advised to return the product immediately. Chief Medical Officer, Freda Lewis-Hall, did a video that explained the mix up and gave advice on how it should be handled. Medical experts are saying that this incident should remind woman how imperative it is to keep up with the your birth control pills and to make sure they are taking the right one’s on the right days. It seems as if there were not any big apology or anything that was said to ensure that this wouldn’t happen again, Pfizer is just giving the impression that it was a mistake and it won’t happen again. The emphasis is mainly on the recall and seeing a physician if the pills were used

Pfizer made comments like:

“Because of our high quality standards”

“Patients are our first priority & here at Pfizer we’re committed to serving quality medicines”

“We understand that this news can be very concerning and confusing for any women who take birth control pills”

“We share your concerns”

“Want to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate information”

All of these statements make Pfizer sound like they really care about their customers and a company to count on but if you compare the video to the articles and press release, you might have noticed a different fact that jumps out at us. Dr. Lewis-Hall states in the video that “if you are a women who’s been taking Lo/Overal – 28 or Lo/Ovral-28 tablets or generic Norgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol tablets over that last several months, to please consult with your physician.” This says that they don’t know exactly when this started but they do know, as stated in the news release, video and articles that it was because of a visual inspection and mechanical error. So because a human visually inspected incorrectly or have the machine checked effectively this error occurred. In the last video, you hear about another birth control recall that happened in September. Qualitest Pharmaceuticals recalled 1.4 million birth control pills due to a different packaging error. Pfizer just conducted that one video from Dr. Lewis-Hall and the Press Release.

In your opinion, how does all of this information on this situation make Pfizer look? By using the five stages of a crisis, please explain what you believe Pfizer did right or wrong. Do you think they should of addressed the public more than just a press release and statement on the issue? Do you believe that Pfizer owes women who were using this product an apology? If so, what else could they have done or said? What do you think the outcome of this recall will be on the products itself? If you were the PR Professional would you do anything different? If so, what?



21 thoughts on “Pfizer’s Birth Control Recall

  1. To me, I believe that Pfizer did a very good job responding to the crisis in a timely manner. It seems that they are following the precedent set by Tylenol, and fully complying with the investigation, maintaining full transparency and giving the public all the information needed to deal with the mistake. Pfizer looks as if they’ve done a quality job containing the crisis and it seems that they had prepared measures in place to handle such a crisis. I think it’s fairly obvious that they had a quality crisis communication plan in place, as shown by the well thought out response by Pfizer. The company now appears to be in the recovery stage, which may be a bit more difficult. I’m not sure women are going to be confident in using the product until it’s assured that it’s safe to use again. This is what Pfizer reps have to work on, they need to figure out a way to retain customers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another card out of the Tylenol deck being played. Maybe coupons, obtainable by a hotline that describes new safety measures. The Tylenol case is very applicable to this case, although an internal investigation should take place to see how this mistake happened. The results need to be publicized and resulting actions need to be made public as well.


    • Perfect answer Sam! Exactly what I was thinking. My prediction is, as they suggested for women to switch, that they will switch brands and stick to it. I mean there are SO many other forms of birth control. I probably wouldn’t be able to count on that product working properly after this incident.

    • I hate to disagree with you Sam but I feel that Pfizer is not being fully transparent. They never gave a cause or solution for this problem and to me, that seems sort of fishy (like they’re hiding something). I do agree with you, though, about Pfizer possibly using coupons in the future to gain consumer trust again. If they do use this method, they do need to share information about the safety measures they are taking (like you said). If they don’t, consumers will assume that the company has the same manufacturing procedures (like the ones they had before and during the crisis) and that will make them hesitant to trust the company again.

      • I feel as though Pfizer absolutely gave a cause and a solution. The cause was a packaging error which they admitted themselves. They showed transparency because they revealed the mistake, it wasn’t uncovered by investigative reporting. The solution is a full recall that all women can participate in on Pfizer’s website. I think this is as transparent as it gets, they are showing the world exactly how much of their product may be tainted. Like I said before, a more thorough internal investigation needs take place so a similar mistake doesn’t happen again, and more steps need to occur in the recovery stage. But I still think the initial steps of the crisis were handled well.

    • They had a very positive light, personally ^didnt even know they were in a crisis until further research, so they kind of stayed out of the light while remaining honest and truthful in the light they were in. I absolutly loved they way they handled the situation


      • Agreed. Although more needs to be done in the recovery stage as many women may be scared off by the product in the future, I think the company did well handling the initial media blitz when news of the crisis broke. I think the initial quick reporting of the packaging mistake was key to how the media chose to report the incident. I think if the media would have found out with an investigative report, the media’s slant would have been more about how many women are having unintended pregnancies instead of focus on the recall itself. This type of coverage would have been much more damaging for Pfizer.


    • I feel that Pfitzer was looked at in a negative light short term but longterm it seems as if people got over it. I have talked to several people about this topic and everyone’s initial reaction is the same, which is a look of shock and unbelief. It reflects how people during that time felt which was stuff like this doesn’t happen. After it was in the media for a while and the recall was in effect it seemed as if people were more at ease and things went back to normal. In this situation I don’t feel that the media portrayed Pfitzer negativly, I think that they worked with each other to make sure that people were informed about the issue.

  2. There’s quite a bit of things that can go wrong in the pharmaceutical world, and over the years, have gone wrong. The recall of several anti-depressants in the last decade, over-the-counter pills causing side-effects not listed, and certain drugs simply making people ill are just some examples. But if there is one thing I know for a fact, you do not mess with a woman’s birth control.

    Let’s be honest, there is a reason why women chose to partake in a birth control method: they don’t want to get pregnant. That requires a lot of trust in a brand, more than the average consumer-manufacturer trust. If they mess up, it could lead to a situation where a woman has an unplanned pregnancy. That’s a bit heavier than the typical list of side-effects.

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see enough sufficient evidence to say Pfizer handled this crisis at any capacity more than “average.” Typical answers, typical text-book approach, not-so-typical problem. How about offering a free supply of Pfizer birth control pills to any woman with proof of purchase during the bad batch? Or issuing an alternate method of birth control the company produces?

    I also feel like there’s a bit of passing the buck going on. By Pfizer continuously telling women to check in with their physician, which is understandable, they are also coming across as “sorry, but it’s your doctor’s problem now.”

    Honesty time again: I can’t fully empathize with a woman when her birth control fails, on the fault of the manufacturer, and becomes pregnant. But from a guy’s perspective, this is terrifying. It affects both genders. I wouldn’t want any woman I know to continue using Pfizer, at least for a while.

    Pfizer crisis side-effects: Could cause headaches, stomach pain, fluctuating sleep patterns, unplanned pregnancy and a downfall of a once-trusted brand.

    • I agree with you, Danny! I feel like Pfizer is distancing themselves from the crisis by saying “Hey, if you take this, you should go to the doctor to figure out what to do.” I just don’t like or agree with this strategy. Pfizer should be offering solutions, as well.

      I also really like your Pfizer crisis’ side-effects list. It’s sad but true. I feel like this crisis will negatively impact the company’s image. The way the last video ended is proof to this claim. The media is looking at Pfizer like they are joke.

  3. Personally, I feel that all of this information makes Pfizer look really bad. They gave a very vague answer for the cause of the problem and they didn’t give an answer on how they’ll prevent this from happening again in the future. Pfizer did manage to detect and contain the problem (which is really important) but I still feel that they are lacking in their efforts to recover from this crisis. I do think that the company should have been in contact with the public much more than they did because their product is widely used. The way they handled the problem seems like they were trying to distance themselves from it. If I was using this product, it wouldn’t matter if there was only 1% chance of me getting the bad dose, I wouldn’t want anything to do with it. That 1% is still a chance that my life could forever change because I was putting my trust in a company’s product that failed me. Now granted, there is no 100% guarantee on anything in life. On this topic, condoms aren’t 100% guaranteed either. But when there is a crisis and I feel that the company is pushing me away to a third party (such as my doctor) to solve the problem, it makes me not want to support them anymore. Pfizer should issue an apology. In my opinion, they should’ve produced a handout that contained information on alternative medication that consumers may use until this problem is over. If I was the PR professional, I would’ve focused on making the consumers feel safer with our company’s products by really listening to them. They could’ve set up a phone line or a special Twitter page that would allow the company to handle customer concerns related to this crisis (not just to be informed of the side effects).

    • I agree, Laura. The communication with the publics was almost nonexistent. Pfizer made it the consumer’s responsiblity to counteract what they had done. While I don’t think they should have went as far as paying check-up bills or anything, it would have been a nice gesture to offer their consumers more. It’s a part of taking responsibilty for their mistake. I mean, what are the consumers getting for their troubles? A bouncing baby boy?

      – Cherese

    • It’s possible. Right now their biggest competition is France’s Sanofi. While I don’t believe Sanofi sells birth control, it was predicted last November that they would be taking over the #1 spot this year for highest global sales for a pharmaceutical company. With this crisis and the way Pfizer is handling the recovery stage, it seems like Sanofi may have a clear shot to the top spot.

      – Cherese

  4. I don’t think it’s looking too good on Pfizer’s end. I mean a birth control pill that could possibly get you pregnant? Yeah, not good. From the information provided and some outside reading, it doesn’t look to be getting any better as far as PR goes. While I will admit some of the things they did had them heading in the right direction, they weren’t executed very well. For instance, it was smart of them to immediately recall the product once they found out there was a possible problem. Another positive point for Pfizer was having the Chief Medical Officer Freda Lewis-Hall speak in a video about the recall. She expressed their concern for their consumers as well as provided them with instruction on what to do next. I think this would have been a great opportunity for them to apologize for the mix-up. After the video was released, it seemed like communication with the public stopped. This type of situation should involve two-way communication and instead it was very one way. This is going to hurt Pfizer now that they’re in the recovery stage. It feels like they were kind of like, “OK. We took it off the shelves, now whatever happens after this is on you.” Creating a help line would be a great start to opening up that two-way communication. When I looked up the Qualitest recall they mentioned in the video, I found various press releases and articles that listed a contact number for ‘doctors, pharmacists and patients seeking more information.’ They’re keeping the communication open with their consumers unlike Pfizer. I chuckled a little at the joke that women could always use Pfizer-made pregnancy tests to see if they’re pregnant. Yeah, right. After the birth control slip up, women no longer trust the company and that’s the problem. Pfizer has yet to give consumers a reason to trust their products again. A way they could do that is revising the product check procedures. It may not make a big difference, but at least you’re showing the consumers that you’re being active. I also think an incentive to buy the product would be good. Maybe a ‘buy one, get one free’ type thing or coupons.

    LATE ADD: I just came across this article today, which says things could be looking up for Pfizer. It talks about the legal issues associated with unwanted pregnancies and the fact that women have become pregnant while on regularly packaged birth control. It’s an interesting read, but I still don’t think it helps them in the PR department.

    Here’s the link:

  5. In Pfizer press release states, “The cause was identified and corrected immediately,” those causes weren’t mentioned? That was one crisis mistake Pfizer made to their consumer sensitivity of such an ordeal. However, I like how Pfizer listed recalled or affected products for product awareness to its purchasers. According to the five stages of a crisis; I feel Pfizer excel in the learning stage. The learning phase is a process of examining the crisis and determining what was lost, what was gained, and how the organization performed in the crisis (Kathleen Fearn-Banks; pg. 8). Pfizer seem to have taken their company away from the ordeal by separating their good brand name from a bad misconception of out of sequence tablets that happened to touch retail pharmacies, warehouses, and clinics. I agree that all PR professionals should apologize for all unexpected crisis. However, there were no reported deaths or health issues related to this crisis, therefore there isn’t a necessity to apologize. A lot of companies have a possibility of going through a recall, so I don’t think it would affect sales or further assistance of Lo/Ovral -28 tablet. If I was the PR professional for Pfizer there would have been more focus on gaining, or maintaining the trust of consumers, retailers, pharmacists, and other personnel. I would have addressed the public more with the actual causes and possibilities of how this ordeal came about. I would have reported all things that will be taken place behind scenes to ensure to our consumers that another crisis like this would be prevented and certainly won’t have happen again.

  6. I feel that Pfitzer was looked at in a negative light short term but longterm it seems as if people got over it. I have talked to several people about this topic and everyone’s initial reaction is the same, which is a look of shock and unbelief. It reflects how people during that time felt which was stuff like this doesn’t happen. After it was in the media for a while and the recall was in effect it seemed as if people were more at ease and things went back to normal. In this situation I don’t feel that the media portrayed Pfitzer negativly, I think that they worked with each other to make sure that people were informed about the issue.

    • I agree, i think the media including Pfitzer did a great job with the crisis communication, yes Pfitzer should have been more sympathetic with the situation, though.

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