There must be a lot of money to be made in peddling medical treatments and prescription drugs to Americans, or else there’d be no way the advertisements pitching these treatments and drugs to the public could be so plentiful. But you may have noticed a feature of those ads that is conspicuously absent in the public pitch for COVID-19 vaccines.
Let’s consider that commercial (or any of the hundreds exactly like it) entreating you to get vaxxed as a means to “get back to life,” showing happy images of travel passports, college, family meals, and visiting grandparents. But, we’re assured, “it’s okay to have questions,” like “how were the vaccines tested?” and “why should I get vaccinated?”
How were they tested? “In rigorous clinical trials among adults of diverse backgrounds,” we’re assured. Oh, well that’s a relief.
Why should I get vaccinated? Because “protecting yourself also helps protect the people around you.” You don’t say? Hadn’t heard that.
“Back to life?” the commercial ends. “It’s up to you.”
There are two things that the average American might notice here.
The first is that this commercial, just like every COVID vaccine pitch ever created, treats us, the skeptical-yet-potential consumer, like a child being persuaded by a desperate parent to believe that Santa really showed up on Christmas Eve. “I saw him on the Santa Tracker app. Honest!”
The second is the absence of all that fine-print disclosure that commonly appears at the bottom of most American drug commercials, accompanied by a swift recitation of those horrifying potential side effects in a pleasant voice. And curiously, after not being reminded that there are potential side effects to the COVID vaccines or what those side effects are, we’re also not reminded that we should talk to our doctor before “deciding” to take this new drug.
As it turns out, there’s a reason that all those American drug manufacturers and their pitchmen have always put all those uncomfortable disclosures in their commercials, and it’s not because they’re really bad salespeople or because they love being the subject of countless parodies for presenting side effects that are often worse than the cure they promise.
Nope. It’s thanks, in part, to this little nuisance of a concept called “informed consent.”
“Informed consent to medical treatment,” according to the American Medical Association, “is fundamental to both ethics and law. Patients have a right to receive information and ask questions about recommended treatments so that they can make well-considered decisions about care.”
Pharmaceutical companies peddling their wares in America, almost uniquely in the global context, are able to market prescription drugs directly to potential patients. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeks to keep the drug peddlers honest, believing this to be part of the process by which potential patients are informed, and therefore requiring them to present the negative effects of any medical treatment alongside potential benefits.