Feb 18, 2021

Pfizer's Past and its COVID-19 Vaccine

Pfizer Inc, the American Pharmaceutical giant, is the 49th largest public company globally, with a market capitalization of $210 billion as of August 2020. The company is all over the news for being one of the first to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine recently received authorization for use in the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and the United States, following approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).  In this article, we shall delve into Pfizer's past and examine its emergence at the forefront of the race to develop a vaccine. 

In 1849, cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles F. Erhart, from Ludwigsburg, Germany, founded Pfizer in New York. The firm tasted immediate success with their first product santonin an anti-parasite used to treat intestinal worms. In the 1880s, Pfizer underwent rapid growth by producing citric acid to combat scurvy and as an ingredient in various sodas. The death of  Erhart in 1891 resulted in Charles Pfizer gaining the sole ownership of the company. 

The company went public in 1942 when it issued 240,000 shares to the general public. At the time, Pfizer was a crucial contributor to maximizing the production of penicillin for use by the Allied Forces in World War II. After its floatation, the company decided to shift from a manufacturer of fine chemicals to a research-based pharmaceutical company. That was a stroke of genius as they went on to develop and market their most successful products - Xanax, Zoloft, Lipitor, Viagra, and many more. 

Pfizer grew its product portfolio and size through a large number of mergers from 2000-2010, with the acquisitions of Warner-Lambert being the first one for $111.8 billion, leading to the formation of the second-largest pharmaceutical company in the world at the time. Following this, Pfizer bagged the spot for the largest pharmaceutical company globally after acquiring its rivals Pharmacia and Wyeth for $100 billion. Chances are if you go to your medicine cabinet, more than half of it will have come from Pfizer or one of its subsidiaries. 

However, it has not been smooth sailing for Pfizer. The company has seen its fair share of controversy, lawsuits, and criticism for its operations. One of the first scandals to plague Pfizer occurred right after World War II; as the company faced accusations of flouting traditional drug distribution network norms by marketing directly to hospitals and physicians using flashy advertisements in the Journal of American Medical Association. Pfizer has repeatedly received criticism for its aggressive and false marketing to attract customers. In 2009 the company had to pay a record $2.3 billion, the highest health care fraud settlement ever, to lay down federal charges that one of its subsidiaries had illegally marketed a painkiller called Bextra. The courts have dismissed thousands of these cases for Pfizer over the years. Some of these lawsuits include charges of increased chances of stroke, blood clots, and birth-defects after using some Pfizer products. 

In the 1980s, the Federal Drug Administration linked reports of dozens of heart-related fatalities to Pfizer manufactured heart valves. After the death toll surpassed 125, the firm was compelled to take action and end production of every model of valve. However, by that point, they were implanted in tens of thousands of people, in constant worry hoping that it would not fail. 

One of the largest ethical concerns it has faced was with its Trovan trials in 1996 when Pfizer carried out unapproved clinical trials of its Trovan antibiotic on Nigerian children with Meningitis ultimately leading to the death of 11 children and disabilities in dozens of others. Pfizer did mitigate its impact by paying $700,000 to the victims' families, discontinuing the drug, and vowing not to conduct unapproved clinical trials. Finally, Pfizer is also the top pharmaceutical lobbying spenders in Congress at a whopping $219 million from 1998 to 2018 vying for corporate tax cuts and block initiatives to lower drug prices for the public. Pfizer is determined to have its voice heard within the political landscape and have a large say in the pharmaceutical industry across the world, essentially evolving to have a strong foothold on the global healthcare market.  

Pfizer is a company that has experienced spectacular highs and has fallen in hot water over its many controversies, only rising with the anti-vaxxer movement. Nevertheless, it has bounced back and learned from previous mistakes to provide some of the best medicines and vaccines to date such as Zoloft, Xanax, Lipitor, and Lyrica. Especially for the COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer has followed every precaution needed emerging at the forefront of the Covid-19 vaccine race. The vaccine itself works by using tiny snippets of genetic code called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to prompt the immune system into producing antibodies to the coronavirus, without using bits of the virus itself. Pfizer's fast-paced vaccine development attributed to its technological and intellectual expertise. 
Pfizer does look like it has progressed from previous blunders, making sure all trials obtained authorization and testing huge demographics from 12-year-olds to seniors totaling 43,000 people.  
This led to a 95% success rate in combating COVID-19, adding another successful product to its portfolio and further cementing its foothold on the pharmaceutical market by pushing its products to more countries, especially to LEDCs (Lower Economically Developed Countries) and continuing on research and developing and incorporating more corporate social responsibility for the benefit of its customers.

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