Frontline healthcare workers (Johnson & Johnson)

Healthcare, Pharma Bring COVID-19 Relief

Published on September 14, 2020

As the pandemic continues, healthcare companies have maintained support for first responders, customers and communities. 

The medical community is shifting its focus from the potentially overwhelming need for COVID-19 treatment to research and development of a coronavirus vaccine. Yet healthcare and pharmaceutical companies continue to invest funds, time and resources to COVID’s global impact.

Healthcare and pharma face the challenge of showing they are true corporate social responsibility partners. Pharma has come under special scrutiny for aggressive pricing and marketing, most acutely in the opioid addiction crisis.

Four in 5 respondents in The Purpose Report survey were optimistic that technological and scientific changes will make life better in the future. They chose health and fitness and outdoor activities as personal interests more frequently than technology or video games. In gauging social purpose, cash donations were cited as the top indicator of a brand’s commitment. Only 23% of consumers acknowledged the corporate social responsibility report as a way that brands and companies show a purpose beyond making money, compared with cash donations (61%), direct aid (53%) or events or campaigns (39%).

These are among the healthcare and pharma companies taking direct action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson on Sept. 14 began mid-phase COVID-19 vaccine trials through its Janssen Pharmaceutical unit. On Sept. 8 it joined Merck, Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies in pledging to meet the requirements of regulators in advanced clinical trials. Vaccine research was fast-tracked in June.

On March 27, the company and its foundation pledged a $50 million response to COVID-19 as part of a global 10-year commitment of $250 million to frontline healthcare workers. Key stakeholders guide the initiative through the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, applying funds to concerns as varied as meals, PPE, training and mental health.

Bristol Myers Squibb

In an Aug. 4 update, the pharmaceutical company announced that it had contributed over $31 million in financial support, personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment through the company and the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation. The company is participating in efforts designed to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for COVID-19. In August, it detailed a five-year, $300 million health equity initiative covering clinical trials and underserved populations.


On May 21, the biopharmaceutical maker AbbVie named 26 nonprofit organizations, 15 of them in Chicago and other U.S. cities, that will share in $5 million in donations to support COVID-19 relief efforts. In the U.S., funds will support healthcare capacity for hospitals and give vulnerable populations access to food and essential supplies. The charities include the American Red Cross, Heart to Heart International, Love Beyond Walls, the National Hispanic Council on Aging, Save the Children and YWCA USA.

The donations are a continuation of monetary support AbbVie has provided to various organizations since the early stages of the pandemic. On March 31, AbbVie pledged $35 million globally to help support underserved communities and healthcare systems working to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including donations to Feeding America, International Medical Corps and Direct Relief.  AbbVie is testing its HIV antiretroviral in the treatment of COVID-19.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

By April 21, the network of Blue Cross Blue Shield companies had committed nearly $3 billion in community funding, donation of medical supplies and resources, telehealth expansion and cost-sharing waivers for COVID-19 testing and treatment. The community initiatives benefit local food banks and other charities. Insurers can pull vast networks together for a significant purpose.


On April 21, the Cigna Foundation and New York Life Foundation launched the Brave of Heart Fund to provide grants to survivors of frontline U.S. healthcare workers who die in the fight against COVID-19, with an initial commitment of $50 million and a goal to raise $100 million. Families can apply for up to $75,000 to pay for medical care, counseling and other personal needs. Noting the bereaved families’ urgent mental and emotional health needs, Cigna’s announcement said the fund would accept applications starting in May.

Gilead Sciences

On April 8, Gilead Sciences–maker of the antiviral drug remdesivir, approved May 1 to treat severe COVID-19 cases–launched a $20 million fund to support relief organizations during COVID-19. Funding will go to organizations the biopharmaceutical company already funds, including cancer and HIV community support groups. By continuing to build upon existing relationships targeting vulnerable communities, the fund further allows the company to establish itself as a good corporate partner. Gilead also pledged $1 million each to Los Angeles and San Mateo County relief funds, and will match employee donations to three global relief nonprofits.

UnitedHealth Group

On April 7, UnitedHealth Group accelerated nearly $2 billion in payments and incentives to healthcare providers to help with the COVID-19 financial challenges. The expedited claims come after a March 26 investment of $50 million to support communities most directly impacted by the public health emergency, including $30 million to protect and support healthcare workers and an employee donation match. With a focus on community and employee engagement, the healthcare company is strategically targeting communities affected by the pandemic.


Pfizer and the Pfizer Foundation is committing $40 million in global grants to address the spread of COVID-19 and to strengthen vulnerable healthcare systems against future public health threats. The drug company, which is developing a coronavirus vaccine, said in an April 6 statement it’s also “evolving” its subsidy programs to expand drug access, and paying medical workers on leave to take frontline diagnostic, treatment and public health roles. By acting on previous needs assessments, Pfizer can take direct action quickly and put purpose into practice.

Horizon Therapeutics

The niche pharma manufacturer Horizon Therapeutics became a first responder by giving $1.5 million to send protective gear to healthcare workers where its operations are located. “Thanks to Horizon’s donation, we have already sourced and ordered a large shipment of personal protective equipment,” said John Conrad, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization (iBio), in a March 26 Horizon news release. Horizon was the first contributor to the trade group’s response fund, with $500,000. Another $500,000 went to the United Way of Illinois fund supporting community foundation and nonprofit agility, and $500,000 was pledged to efforts in South San Francisco and Washington D.C., where Horizon also operates, and Dublin, Ireland, Horizon’s corporate headquarters. While acting ahead of larger organizations, Horizon downplayed the donations. A COVID-19 update on its website listed customer service contacts for each of its rheumatic and rare-disease products. The restrained treatment is in line with Horizon’s patient-focused purpose statement: “we believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives.”

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