It turns out creating a way to both protect people from a deadly virus and return them to their normal lives is quite profitable.
The company announced how much it made from the vaccine on Tuesday.
Pfizer’s data shows it made $3.5bn in revenue during the first three months of 2021.
According to The New York Times, Pfizer said that the revenue accounted for nearly a quarter of its total revenue, making the vaccine by far the company's most lucrative product.
Although Pfizer has not revealed the profits it generated from the vaccine, it reiterated a prediction that the profits would be in the high 20 per cent range, which means the company's profits would land in the $900m pre-tax range.
The company's product undoubtedly saved countless lives and will likely play a critical role in helping the US economy build back after the beating it took during the pandemic.
However, the company is revealing its revenue at a time when other countries – most notably India – are facing nightmare conditions in their battles with the pandemic, including a shortage of vaccines and oxygen.
While the Pfizer vaccine has certainly saved lives, it is also highly concentrated among the world's wealthy, which has since prompted justice and equity advocates like Senator Bernie Sanders to call on vaccine producers to give up their intellectual property rights to the shots so they can be more easily replicated and distributed globally.
"We have got to obviously make sure that every American gets vaccinated as quickly as possible," Mr Sanders said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. "But not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it's in our own self-interest. If this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it's going to come back and bite us at one point or another."
He said Americans needed to tell the drug companies to let the rest of the world have the vaccine.
"And I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies – when millions of lives are at stake around the world – yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries," he said.
While Pfizer has not shown any move to make its vaccine ip open-source, it did agree to donate 40 million doses to Covax, which is a multilateral partnership that distributes vaccines to poor countries.
That contribution is less than 2 per cent of the 2.5 billion doses the company plans to produce in 2021.
The company also frequently points out that it did not take any government money to develop the vaccine, effectively divorcing it from any ethical – but perhaps not moral – obligation to freely distribute it to anyone. However, its development partner, BioNTech, did receive substantial financial support from the German government, and the technology that allows messenger RNA – a critical component of the vaccine – to exist was created by the National Institutes of Health.
In other words, while Pfizer did not take direct payments from the US government to develop the vaccine, it still relied on public funds and supported technologies to produce the vaccine.
While profiting off of the vaccine, the company did make the shots affordable, at least from the perspective of an American consumer.
The company sold the shots for approximately the same as a flu shot – about $19.50 per dose. Other vaccines can cost hundreds of dollars.
A Pfizer spokesman speaking with The Times seemed to suggest that during the vaccine’s early development countries that had not yet been hit hard by the virus were less interested in purchasing doses from the company. He also said Pfizer was considering contributing more doses to Covax beyond the initial 40 million.
“Not everyone was interested in the vaccine or prepared to take steps; thus, conversations continue, including working with Covax beyond their initial order of 40 million doses,” the spokesman said.
One of those countries the pharmaceutical company is in discussions with is India, where the virus has left thousands dead and medical workers reeling.
Pfizer withdrew its application to have its vaccine undergo an emergency authorisation in the country due to India's drug regulatory body requiring the company preform an in-country clinical trial.
When that impasse occurred, the country's coronavirus numbers were much more table and locally made vaccines were believed to be sufficient for staving off the virus.
It appears the company and India have resumed talks, with Pfizer pledging to donate more than $70m in medicine.
Indian officials said they would try to fast-track the vaccine authorisation.