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What is Pfizer?

The massive pharmaceutical company Pfizer recently made headlines when it announced that it had developed a vaccine which early results showed was over 90% effective. Two weeks later, it reported that its vaccine had risen to 95% effectiveness. But even before its recent successes, the company was well-known in the business world.


In 1849, Pfizer was started as a single-building chemical manufacturer in New York City. It sustained itself for its first 150 years by discovering, patenting, and selling various drugs. Early on, these included citric acid, Vitamin C and penicillin; by the end of the twentieth century, Pfizer was famous for having developed Zoloft, Xanax, Advil, and Viagra.

Since 2000, Pfizer has merged with and acquired many market rivals, today ranking among the largest American corporations with an annual revenue of over $50 billion. Pfizer operates in nearly every country and is the largest pharmaceutical company in human history. Besides its dominance in the medical field, it is also behind many everyday products, including Chapstick.


Like many major pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer has been fairly unpopular among many consumers. The company has spent billions of dollars lobbying Congress, and regularly raises the prices of its medicines and vaccines frequently by large amounts.

Because of the uniqueness of their products and lack of regulation, large pharmaceutical companies can raise the price of their products steeply and face few consequences other than consumer dissatisfaction. Since these consumers often depend on the product and have little or no alternative, this dissatisfaction usually does not translate into less sales, and never less profits. In 2020 alone, Pfizer raised prices for over 40 products by over 9 percent.


In other ways, Pfizer has differentiated itself from its contemporaries, often in progressive ways. The company has a long history of taking climate change seriously, reducing its carbon emissions from 2002 to 2008 by nearly 20 percent. The Carbon Disclosure Project, a non-profit dedicated to tracking carbon emissions, repeatedly commended Pfizer for its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Further, Pfizer has long prized itself on the huge amounts of money it regularly spends on medical research. In 2007, the company spent $8.1 billion, the largest amount ever spent on research and development (R&D) by a pharmaceutical company. It closed out 2019 as still one of the highest spending pharmaceutical companies on R&D.

Pfizer’s vaccine success is only the most recent in a long and illustrious history of medical breakthroughs, and, if its past is any indicator, one of many more to come.

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