Outside their headquarters in New York City, a Pfizer spokesperson gave a shocking announcement on April 1, 2016. “Pfizer will be cutting the price of over 100 medicines.” Cheers rang out from the nearly 100 activists gathered in expectation of this development, including members of ACT UP NY, VOCAL NY, Housing Works, Health GAP, an affinity group Nobody’s Fool, and others. Sadly, this was just part of an elaborate hoax intended to call out the greed and murderous indifference of the pharmaceutical industry, and illustrate just how easily they could do the right thing.
Just as the April Fool’s hoax was revealed, another crowd carrying a 20-foot-tall puppet rounded the corner of 42nd Street. The puppet was the work of renowned artist and puppeteer Basil Twist. The “representative” ceded the floor to testimonies from patients and a reading of the group’s demands: stop price gouging, drop the price of the pneumonia vaccine to $5 per child, and end the attempted tax inversion merger with Allergan (just five days later, the Obama administration rightly blocked this merger).
About 24 hours prior, the Internet was taken by storm in a frenzy of confusion as two web pages went live mimicking real Pfizer and PhRMA sites. Press releases referenced a three-page report, “A Sustainable Pricing Plan for the 21st Century,” which was posted and sent to over 3000 journalists in the US and Europe. (See pages 1, 2 and 3.) The affinity group Nobody’s Fool took responsibility after tricking the Washington Post and many others into believing the Pfizer press release was real. Upon speaking to a real Pfizer representative, the Post removed the articles and released a statement claiming, “Pfizer is committed to engaging in an honest discussion and real dialogue about the issues that matter to patients.” Is it ironic or just indicative of Big Pharma’s disregard for life that they failed to speak to any of the patients living with HIV, hepatitis C or cancer who stood outside their headquarters demanding drug price reductions?