Jerica Pitts moved to New York to join the Pfizer pharmaceutical corporation in January 2020, roughly six weeks before the pandemic lockdown began in the United States. Her whole life quickly became about one thing: communicating vital information on the Pfizer vaccine to the world’s waiting ears.
As a 2012 public relations graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, Pitts had unknowingly prepared herself for a critical role at the center of a global health crisis.
After graduation, Pitts worked for healthcare and pharmaceutical/biotech communications agencies in Chicago for seven years. Now she is the director of science media relations at Pfizer, responsible for informing the media about the company’s vaccine.
“I wouldn’t say it was the best timing, but it was probably the best timing for me to be introduced at Pfizer,” Pitts says. “And then just a few weeks later, the world changed and suddenly, my role was 100 percent focused on elevating the vaccine and what we were doing.”
For Pitts, a typical day consists of learning the latest data and developments regarding the vaccine and updating reporters. She manages a small team that produces information about the vaccine and other Pfizer medicines for media, including international outlets.
“I think that there’s a big perception of what science looks like, that there’s chemistry experiments exploding in the labs. And this job has really given me an opportunity to take down that wall and introduce the world to what goes on and what goes into it,” Pitts says. “The people on the vaccine team are probably the best people I know. I feel so confident in the vaccine because of the incredible minds working on it and how dedicated they are.”
For Pitts, the biggest challenge as the pandemic began was balancing her personal and professional life as the public pushed for information on possible vaccines. Once the Pfizer vaccine had been developed, she says, there was immense pressure to deliver it globally—her team addressed “nonstop questions” about which groups would receive the vaccine, and when.
With vaccines now in wide distribution, next for Pitts will be explaining how the technology behind the Pfizer vaccine could be used for other diseases and infectious viruses such as influenza.
Pitts grew up in Detroit, watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and dreaming of becoming a doctor. She came to the UO to study biochemistry but switched after taking journalism classes. She was still interested in science but wasn’t sure how to combine the two fields.
She credits SOJC professors for helping her piece together a career track. Her mentors included Duncan McDonald, professor emeritus; Debra Merskin, professor emerita; Kelli Matthews, public relations senior instructor; and Tiffany Gallicano, a former associate professor. Nearly a decade later, Pitts still keeps in touch with them to share news and accomplishments.
Pitts has applied what she learned at the journalism school, from how to network and build connections to proofreading and writing stories. She says the friendships she made were instrumental in helping her understand her potential and how to succeed.
“My advice for someone coming out of college who wants to be in media relations is that perfection on the job is not everything that matters,” Pitts says. “Coming out of school you have a mentality of achieving a perfect ‘A,’ but work is subjective and you need to be open to making mistakes.”
—By Joanna Mann, BA ’21 (journalism), a writer for the School of Journalism and Communication
—Photos courtesy of Jerica Pitts