This Subway Ad is What’s Wrong With Public Health in the US

Antibiotic-resistant infections in US children surged by 700% from 2007-2015. According to the UK Department of Health, “Increasing scientific evidence suggests that the clinical issues with antimicrobial resistance that we face in human medicine are primarily the result of antibiotic use in people, rather than the use of antibiotics in animals.” The CDC states that fully 30% of antibiotics prescribed for people by public health officials are unnecessary. It’s all too common to hear people jonesing for a Z-Pak to treat their common cold (by the way, antibiotics cannot treat viruses) — most seem to find a medical professional to accommodate their request.
Antimicrobial resistance is a massive and growing threat.

So why is a new pharmacy/medical concierge service bragging that they will send over “very, very strong antibiotics” at the first sign of a neighbor’s sneeze? This isn’t cute, funny, or glib. It’s irresponsible, and it’s dangerous.

Health companies have a responsibility to represent best practices and scientifically sound thinking in the public arena. One might expect this type of pandering and misinformation from, say, a food company, claiming that their product is healthy until forced to admit their “bread” has more in common with a yoga mat than a baguette. I was particularly outraged to see this ad this weekend from a health company (apparently I’m late), not only because it implies that a new PHARMACY does not understand the basics of how antibiotic drugs work, let alone what role their misunderstanding plays in an ongoing public health crisis, but also because of a more subtle implication. Marketing and story-telling, divorced from data, are too often allowed to substitute for truth.

In an age of “fake news,” irreproducible peer-reviewed studies, and backward government policy, corporations have the resources and the responsibility to be stewards and leaders around critical issues like environmental and human health. There is simply no excuse for a health ad that perpetuates dangerous myths and misunderstandings about overused drugs.

The fact that these ads are still up, weeks after being called out by numerous New Yorkers, signals a dangerous prioritization of publicity over prudence, and of short-term gains over long-term consequences. Capsule has a long way to go to deliver on their “kinder, smarter, better” tag-line.

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