Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pfizer's Contraceptive Recall: A Statistical Needle in a Haystack!

All day yesterday, the news swirled through social media about Pfizer's voluntary nationwide recall of contraceptive tablets due to the possibility of "inexact tablet counts or out of sequence tablets." As a result of this packaging error, the daily regimen for these oral contraceptives may be incorrect and could leave women without adequate contraception, and at risk for unintended pregnancy. That's a serious issue for any woman affected and it obviously warrants a recall.

Although Pfizer issued a timely press release dated 31 January 2012 -- which was picked up by the news media -- it did not post a tweet notice via @pfizer_news until about 5 PM yesterday. That tweet announced "Chief Medical Officer Freda Lewis-Hall Addresses Company's Voluntary Recall of Contraceptive Products" and linked to a YouTube video (embedded in this post below). A good use of YouTube -- although the video has only been viewed 444 times so far. But waiting for the video to be produced before sending out a notice of the recall via Twitter was not a good idea considering that nearly 24,000 people follow @pfizer_news!

I'm just curious why Pfizer didn't send out a tweet as soon as it published its press release on 31 January? In one step, 24,000 people could have been directed to the press release. Anyway, here's the video:

Did you hear Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall tell us how many packages Pfizer thinks were faulty? "We believe there are approximately thirty packs of birth control pills that may have received an inexact count or inactive tablets," she said. THIRTY! To retrieve these 30 packages, Pfizer recall 14 lots or approximately 1 million packages! I'm not a mathematician, but the odds that any of these 30 packages will be in the actual packages recalled must be very slim. After all, you can say you are recalling 1 million packages, but how many will actually end up back in Pfizer's warehouses? I imagine a voluntary recall is very INEFFICIENT.

30 out of 1,000,000 is 0.0003%. Even if a voluntary recall sweeps in 99.99% of the 1 million packages, that leaves 0.01% still out there. That's 33 times the number of faulty packs.

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