Delta Variant, Pfizer, & Black Communities (w/ Tyrone McClain)

Continuing with our Pfizer leadership campaign, Zach sits down with Tyrone McClain, Global Director of Public Affairs for Oncology at Pfizer to talk the Delta variant and Pfizer’s priorities in this season. Check the show notes to connect with Tyrone and more!

Read the American Cancer Society piece, “Cancer Disparities in the Black Community,” that Zach mentioned in the interview.

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Zach: Tyrone, welcome to the show, man. How are you doing?

Tyrone : I’m good. I’m good fam. How are you? I’m really happy to be here.

Zach : Man, I’m good. I’m good. You know, it’s interesting, like we’re having this conversation in the middle of this panoramic man. Like my daughter, her daycare recently shut down because one of the kids was tested positive for COVID. She’s 17 months old. All right. So you said before we started recording, you said you had a son, how old is your son?

Tyrone : He’s 16, you know.

Zach : Wow.

Tyrone : He’s 16, but fortunately, you know, I’m in Atlanta, he’s in school. And when he was out of school during the pandemic, we didn’t have some of the childcare issues because he was old enough to take care of himself.

Zach : Word.

Tyrone : So yo, blessings to you, brother. Blessings.

Zach : So your child is–so wait, so Tyrone, what you like, you look like a smooth 28.

Tyrone : Hey, I don’t know who paid you to say that, but thank you brother. I’m [over-talk :57].

Zach : What’s going on? You’ve got the… What? Do you drink a lot of water, or what?

Tyrone : I drink a lot of water. You know, I get it from my mama, you know, she’s a fountain of youth. So, you know, I’m actually 12 years older than what you said. And I got married in 2019, and prior to being married, my wife had a son. So it is my son. He’s a great kid. [inaudible :14].

Zach : Gotcha. Cause I’m over here, like, yo, like that is wild. Like this man don’t look a lick over 30.

Tyrone : Thank you.

Zach : So I’m just like, but that’s a blessing though. Like straight up, [over-talk :24].

Tyrone : Black don’t crack, right?

Zach : No. It bends sometimes if you play around too much. But yeah, I agree.

Tyrone : You’re right.

Zach : Let me start with the first question that came to me. When I preed your profile on LinkedIn. You’re a global director at, I’m gonna say, the most well-known pharmaceutical company in the world.

Tyrone : Respect.

Zach : Why are you pursuing an MBA right now?

Tyrone : Zack, that’s really funny and a great question. I get that frequently. Matter of fact, from a lot of my business colleagues. And I’m gonna answer it two ways, you know, personally and professionally. So professionally, coming from a world that I was in a public sector and being in government for a long time, I think that I felt as though there was certain skill sets that I needed going into the corporate world. You know, working closely with the business to really understand some of the business strategies, that they’re looking to pursue. Why they are making those decisions, because me understanding that language and those decision-makings, I’m more effective in my job. Whereas, though I’m able to provide the patient perspective, but also give them the lens of what policy makers are looking at. You know, so I thought that was really, really important.

: Number two, you know, let’s be real, as a black person trying to break the metaphorical, you know, glass ceiling, there’s always impediments in a way that you try to keep you from living out, or reaching your destiny. So, I want to remove any burdens that were in the way that said, he didn’t have the right experience, or the right education. And then finally, I would say from a personal perspective, my aunt, God rest her soul, she was huge into education. She always thought that education was a way to provide financial freedom for yourself and the family. And her having only a high school degree, she was always a proponent of me, you know, Tyrone, go ahead and be an example for the family. Go graduate from college, be the first in your family. But also, when you put yourself in a position to get an advanced degree, go ahead and do that. And the day before we lost her, you know, I made a promise. So I want to fulfill that. So I just hope she’s proud.

Zach : Man. That’s beautiful. And I hear you. I hear all of your rationale and all your reasonings. I just think is wild, because like Pfizer is so big. It’s like, I feel like that’s like your stamp. Now, if you wanted to go and be like, I don’t know, like a professional rugby player, I can understand, you might want to get some. But I’m saying like, you have got the brand, but I hear you, and your right. The reality of our experiences is that, you know, we often need additional credentials. And then, to your point, like around education, that resonates with me because, I’m the first man on my mom’s side of the family to start and graduate from a four-year university.

Tyrone : Graduation.

Zach : My older cousin, he graduated from college, but he started as a [inaudible :18]. So like I’m still a first, but he beat me just by merit of him being two years older, a couple years older. But so, that’s beautiful. You know, it’s been nearly four years for you, at Pfizer. What brought you here and what’s keeping you here?

Tyrone : Yeah. So what brought me here? That’s a really good question too, as well. So after the previous presidential campaign, I was really burnt out. I was in, you know, running campaigns, one shape with a farm, since I graduated from college, you know, I was working in municipality. I was a district chief of staff for a Congressman. And I felt as though I was doing good work, and I was helping people. But I was at the point that I needed to move on, and I needed to do something more. And this opportunity presented itself to come work at Pfizer. Which, to your point, is a well-known brand. You know, a company that I always wanted to work for. And being at the company, I would tell you, not only is important for me to be passionate about anything that I do, but, as you heard from the previous podcast, the people at Pfizer are amazing. Not only really smart, and they are inspiring, but their dedication to providing patient access, and doing what’s best for the patient is admirable. Coming from a government sector, you kind of think… So, I was, ah, I don’t know about those folks. When you come in, you start to really realize that. But also, working at an organization like Pfizer, that is always constantly innovating, I think it’s really important to have diverse stakeholders in those rooms, when you are talking about addressing patient access and racial inequities.

Zach : You know, it’s interesting because like this has been so informative for me, selfishly. Like it’s like, man, I just learned so much about the roles that Pfizer has invested in, for the sake of equity. And really making sure or at least supporting equitable patient care. You know, it’s interesting you do exist in rarefied air. How do you, if at all, you’ve already kind of alluded to it already, but like how do you manage any pressure to exist as a global leader, as a mentor, as an example, and frankly, as a representative to so many unheard voices, in what I would imagine is a white space? Before you came on folks were saying, yo, Tyrone is that guy. He has a cult following, people, really like ‹em, you know what I’m saying? He has the freshest, J’s.

Tyrone : That’s true.

Zach : His edge up is always [over-talk :08] on point. His skin is very hydrated. And I say this to someone who, I feel like I can relate to an extent, but like, how do you manage existing in all these different places simultaneously?

Tyrone : Man, rarefied air. I don’t even really thinking about it that way. I just do my job. But I would say that managing stress is definitely a work in progress. I must admit that, you know, especially having a do reality of being a black man working at Pfizer and my commitments to my community. So there’s a couple of ways that I try to manage my stress, and I’ve been doing a lot better at it. Is one, I’ve been adamant about taking vacation time. You know, previously I will work through vacations, and I really wouldn’t take that time because that’s how I was wired. Especially coming from a government sector, whereas though you’re the guy who has to get done. Another thing I’ve been doing is making sure throughout the day, I take two hours to myself, just to eat. Whether it is to have lunch, work out, do some thinking to myself, whatever it maybe, you know, I’m definitely using that time to recharge my batteries.

: And I would say the last thing that I really do and I focus on, and I kind of laugh at, and I guess it’s an opportunity to give a shout out to Goizueta Business School. Is that, prior to everybody starting business school, we had to take a Birkman test. And what the Birkman test does is, it evaluates usual behaviors, your interests and your stress behaviors. And for me, I thought it was interesting, because I laughed at it at first. Like what does Birkman gonna teach me, but it’s taught me how to be more effective, you know, and how I across, and what my stress behaviors look like. So once I see that, I try to reel myself back in and make time. But as I said, to do the things that I need to do to make sure I’m expected as possible.

Zach : You know, it’s interesting. Like I’m a double click on my question. Like, do you feel as if there’s pressure for you to be accessible, and be a mentor to everybody? Like I would imagine that because of your profile, black folks, black and brown folks gravitate towards you. Like how do you manage the demand of accessibility as a leader, and sitting where you sit?

Tyrone : To tell you the truth? I don’t think people reach out to me enough, to tell you the truth. To be honest with you, because I mean, one thing… Listen, after 2020, one thing that came into perspective is that I need to do do more and doing more can mean a lot of things. And one of the things I really looked at is being more selfless with my time and giving back. Not only just doing a good job, and open the doors behind me, but if they don’t know how I got there, how are they going to get there? It doesn’t matter if I opened these doors up or not. So, I like being selfless with my time and make a time to talk to people. Matter of fact, my son plays for AAU sponsored Adidas team. I even volunteered to be a coach to work with young men, you know, his age to give them a couple of jewels and the tools they need to be successful. So, I don’t mind those demands. The demands that more are difficult to me is being more accessible is, within Pfizer, dealing with health equity, and trying to be everything, and answer questions, knowing that we’re not monolithic.

Zach : Right. No, a hundred percent. You know, it’s funny when we first started this series, the COVID vaccine was not [inaudible :52]. It’s just wild actually, how time is going on. I started off talking about how COVID has even just impacted, and continues to impact my immediate family and my household. You know, when we started the series of COVID vaccines were just really starting to get into full swing. I want to say, we have only about a couple, maybe a month in, when the series first started. Now, we have a whole new variant of the disease, which is not shocking for anyone who’s really been paying attention. The fact that the experts were saying that this is what happens, this was not unforeseeable. But still it’s like, you know, so much has happened. I’m curious what your journey has been over the last 18 months. Specifically, not just as the Global Director of Public Affairs for Oncology at Pfizer, but, as a black man as well. You know, like what, if anything, has been keeping you up at night?

Tyrone : I don’t know if we have enough time to really answer that question. So I try to condense it. You know, one is, as I eluded to early on is, am I doing enough at my job? You know, am I communicating effectively? Am I opening up the doors? Am I being selfless with my time? You know, to make sure that I’m opening up opportunity, creating space for people who look like me, to be successful. Then on the other hand, if we look at just the summer of 2020, you know, I have a 16 year old son, that’s six, three, that looks like a grown man. He’s at the age that he started to drive. So how do I balance that, you know, to teach him the things he needs to know when he’s out and not with me. What are the things you need to do if you get pulled over? How you should be conducting yourself out there? Which is really important, but also give him the flexibility to be a teenager, to make some mistakes.

: Whereas though, he probably doesn’t really have the luxury. And then on the back end, if you look at this pandemic, you know before anything, I am a son of Newhallville, Elm City, New Haven, Connecticut. And there’s a lot of people in New Haven, Bridgeport, Connecticut in general, that I really care about. And when you talk to them about this COVID-19, their understanding of what that means, how it impacts them, is really troubling to me. Because on one end, they say, I don’t want to take the vaccine because of things that happened in the past. I definitely understand that. When you break down that argument, you get through that, then it goes, you know, emergency use, I don’t believe in emergency use. So you explain to them what emergency use means, you know, and why we have it. Now, we have the FDA approval. Now the thought is, it may be changing. But my concern is if we had obstacles through those first two, knowing that people you knew and loved were dying, what is going to be the difference now that we have the FDA approved vaccination? So that really keeps me up at night and trying to think of the best way to communicate that, and being a representation of my community.

Zach : You know, to your point around our community, I’m gonna read this from the American Cancer Society. And I’ll put the link in the show notes for folks who want to like read it in depth. But I’m gonna read a portion of it here.

: «African-Americans have a higher cancer burden and faced greater obstacles to cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and survival. In fact, black people have the highest death rate and shorter survival of any racial, ethnic group, for most cancers in the U.S. Research has shown that African-Americans experience more illness, worse outcomes, premature death, compared to whites. African-Americans have the highest death rate, and shorter survival of any racial, ethnic group. Ethnic group for most cancers, African-American men also have the highest cancer incidents. Cancer rates in black men is twice as high as in Asians, and Pacific Islanders who have the lowest rates. Prostate cancer rates, death rates, in black men are more than double those of every other racial ethnic group. Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, and are twice as likely to die if they are over 50. About a third of African American women reported experiencing racial discrimination at a healthcare health provider visit. Living in segregated communities and areas highly populated with African-Americans has been associated with increased chances of getting diagnosed with cancer after it has spread. Along with having higher death rates and lower rates of survival from breast and lung cancer.»

: So with all these things in mind, which I am sure that you are intimately aware, what is Pfizer doing to address cancer disparities in the black community? And how, if at all, has COVID impacted Pfizer’s focus in this regard?

Tyrone : So it is a really great question. And you talk about, our previous question, what keeps me up at night? Exactly those statistics. I know them very well and it’s troubling because, you know, when you think about it, a lot of this comes down to the social determinants of health. When you look at education, housing, food, you know, access to great food, food in general. So I would say, you know, a couple of things, is one is, you know, Pfizer has a long history in trying to address health inequities. You know a storied history of a couple of things that we have tried to do, but I want to point out a couple of things, more specific to the oncology business unit that we’ve been looking to address. So one, given our history and the ways in which we try to address it, we also realized that there was still a white space out there that we weren’t addressing.

: And rather than us looking from our perspective on how we should address health equity, we brought in patients, patient advocates to hear from them on what they think is important? And how we should be addressing it? So, we created a Pfizer oncology patient centricity ecosystem, and we had patients across different tumor types to come in, to help us with three specific areas. One was health literacy, two was clinical trials, and three was health equity, to tell us how we should be looking at it? What are they doing to address it? How we should be addressing it? Because it’s very important to hear from them on the ground, on what they’re doing and how we should be addressing this. So we started this ecosystem in 2019, and over the two years, we’ve worked and it surpassed anything that we thought we’d be able to accomplish.

: Matter of fact, just recently we released a white paper on what they thought, how we should address these three specific areas that’s on So we’re really proud of that. So that’s one way we’re really reaching out to readdress, like how we be thinking about, you know, health inequities. Another thing we did, to get to one of your questions you got to is, 2020 put a lot of things in the forefront. Things as black men and women that we’ve always seen. But I think being at home, not I think, being at home where we can really see, and we had time to think about it, that gave everyone an opportunity to readdress and rethink about how we dealing with health, equity, recruitment, et cetera. So the global oncology president and the North American president, they convened a small group of black colleagues just to check in with them on how you’re doing, how you’re feeling, how are you dealing with this? What resource do you need? How can we help you? Which I thought was very courageous at a time, you know, not being of the community to take that step. I thought it was a very important step because they’re empowered to really make the effective change that we need.

: So I loved that first step. But during that conversation a lot of colleagues started talking about how we address health equity. They felt as though we were over-indexed on the same organizations and the change that they need to see wasn’t being addressed, because a lot of this comes down to access, education, et cetera. So the global president, the North America president, and my supervisor came to me and they asked me to do an oncology advocacy audit, to look at how we partner in people? What our spins is, the success over the years.

: And I would say it was very enlightening. Some of the things that I found, there’s a couple of recommendations that we are actually pulling through right now with their blessing, that we’re starting to change. So I would say, you know, right now we’re in a situation where as though everything is on the table. They’re open to brainstorming, but I think the key is what’s our role to play, and what’s going to be sustainable? As a black man, I don’t want to come in this place and do something, and jump out, and it’s not sustainable. So we’re doing a lot around that. I would say.

Zach : It’s encouraging, you know, when you think about just even the season where, you know, there’s all these reports of ICU beds being taken up. And like, it doesn’t change the fact, there’s a huge population of people who are already sick and who need care. And so, it’s just concerning to me, but it’s exciting to hear, that there’s tangible things that Pfizer is doing in that regard. I feel like with those stats in mind, in fact, that you said these things keep you up at night. I feel like you have to have some degree of hope to do this work. And like, for it not to just completely burn you out. As you look at the next 18 months, like what gives you the most hope? And then, on the flip side of that, what gives you, if anything, pause?

Tyrone : I will say I’m always an eternal optimist. You know, as I said, I started out, I have to be passionate about whatever I’m doing. And for me the passion is, how far can I push it? And how far can I push the limits? But also more importantly, am I still being effective in my role, giving back and doing the things that need to be done? And I would say over these next 18 months, what I’m excited about is that we have a couple of launches that are upcoming, that have high racial disparities. And there’s several conversations about how do we address access, how do we address health inequities? What do we do that is sustainable? That keeps me really encouraged about that because if we weren’t having these conversations, given everything that happened in 2020, and we weren’t putting our money where our mouth was, I would be very concerned.

: So, I think that gives me the most excitement. But also more importantly, my supervisor, who I have to give a shout out to, Albert Bureau, who always encouraged me and tell me, speak your mind, you’re here for a reason, you have great experience. He’s always encouraged me to go into those conversations and doing what I do best. Why I got here is why they want me here. So I think that’s very encouraging, with the different conversations that I’m having. And the things that I’m being asked to do, that it’s going to have, I think it’s going to have an impact in our community. I would say in the backend, that really keeps me up at night is that a lot has changed, due to the pandemic. The way in which we work, you know, how we’re speeding up things to come to the market. The way we’re thinking about things.

: And, to a certain degree, I love the idea of having a first mover advantage. We’re out there. We know what the landscape is when it comes to patients. And I’m only talking about patient centric activities in my world. When we think about how we engage with patient advocates. I don’t want anybody to think I’m thinking about commercial, or anything else. I’m talking about my world the entire time. So my concern is, if we’re out there, we have first mover advantage and we’re not vetting these things properly, and we’re not getting the right input, you know, is this really what’s in our best interest? Is this really what the patients really want? Are these things stainable? Are we duplicating efforts? So I would say that’s the thing that gives me the most pause. And I sometimes, you know, I feel as though some of my colleagues get upset with me because, in my role, dealing with patient advocates, but also [inaudible :34] reputational impact, that it can have, sometimes I have to reel them back in. And it comes across as though, I’m not being a good team player. It’s not, is just that my north star is always, you know, what’s in the best interest of the patients, but also health equity. So every time I get concerned about some, and I’m not sure it’s right, I go point that to my north star and I try to redirect the conversation. So I would say those are the things that kind of keep me up, and keep me worried over these next 18 months.

Zach : Tara, this has been a dope conversation, man. I mean, everybody was again, had some people clamoring like yo, Tyrone. We’ve got to get Tyrone. So I appreciate the fact that you were able to be a guest with us today. Before I let you go, any parting words, any shout outs?

Tyrone : Listen, I want to say thank you very much, but first of all, for having me. This is not something I do, you know, I’m normally a person that likes to create a background. I don’t like to be so forward speaking. But one of my big supporters, Mia, really encouraged me to do that. So I really thank her, but I also want to think, you know, my corporate affairs team that I work with, my mentor, my supervisor, the oncology team, my extended team, my commercial colleagues. I would say, you know, over these four years is have been very rewarding. And I honestly didn’t know I was going to be here this long because it was just so new to me, but coming in and seeing how we work and the things we’re able to do, and the impact we are able to have on patients is truly admirable. And I would just say to everybody, these next nine to 18 months are not going to be easy, but let’s not forget our north star and what brought us here. Patience, patience, patience. But, again, you know, thank you so much for having me.

Zach : Oh man. Look, it’s been a pleasure. We consider you a friend of the show. Shout out to, man, all the work that you’re doing, and we’ll catch you soon.

Tyrone : Yes. Thank you very much.

Zach : Peace.

Tyrone : Have a good one.

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