Explained: The 3 Major COVID-19 Variants
As billions of people gear up for widespread vaccination against COVID-19, another issue has reared its head. Three major COVID-19 variants have emerged across the globe—and preliminary research suggests these variants may be cause for concern.
But what makes them different from the original strain?
The following visualizations answer some key questions, including when these variants were first discovered, how far they’ve spread worldwide, and most importantly, their potential impact on the population.
Some Context: What is a Variant?
Before diving in, it’s important to understand why viruses mutate in the first place.
To infect someone, a virus takes over a host cell and uses it to replicate itself. But nature isn’t perfect, and sometimes, mistakes are made during the replication process—those mistakes are called mutations.
A virus with one or more mutations is referred to as a variant. Most of the time, variants do not affect a virus’s physical structure, and in those instances, they eventually disappear. However, there are certain cases when a mutation impacts part of a virus’s genetic makeup that does change its behavior.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a change in behavior can alter:
- Rate of transmission
- Ability to potentially infect someone with natural or vaccine-induced immunity
Preliminary research has detected some of these changes in the three major COVID-19 variants—B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1.
The 3 Major COVID-19 Variants
The three major variants emerged at different times, and in different parts of the world. Here’s an overview of each variant, when they were discovered, and how far they’ve spread so far.
The B.1.1.7 variant was detected in the UK in the fall of 2020. By December 2020, it had spread across the globe, with cases emerging across Europe, North America, and Asia.
Currently, the variant has been reported in roughly 94 countries.
Early research suggests it’s 50% more transmissible than other variants, and potentially 35% more deadly than the standard virus. Luckily, studies suggest that some of the existing vaccines work well against it.
In October 2020, the second major variant was discovered—B.1.351. It was first identified in South Africa, but by end of the year, it had spread to the UK, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan.
There are approximately 48 countries with reported cases, and research suggests several of the existing COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective against this variant.
The P.1 variant was the last to arrive on the scene.
It was first discovered in January 2021, when Japan reported four cases of the variant, which was found in travelers who had arrived from Brazil.
Approximately 25 countries have reported cases of the P.1 variant, and early research suggests this variant is not only more contagious, but could also have the ability to infect people with natural immunity who had already recovered from the original strain.
Still Early Days
While there have been preliminary studies showing a dip in vaccine effectiveness, some experts emphasize that it’s too early to tell for certain. More data is needed to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding.
In the meantime, experts are emphasizing the importance of following our current public health strategies, which include physical distancing, vaccination, washing your hands, and using masks.
Visualizing the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies
The world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies are worth $4.1 trillion. Here we map the top 100 companies based on their market cap value.
Who are the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies?
Some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have played a central role in the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it’s likely no surprise that the pandemic has also been great for many healthcare businesses. In fact, in 2020 alone, the world’s 50 largest pharmaceutical companies still combined for a whopping $851 billion in revenues.
In this graphic, using data from Companies Market Cap, we list the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world by market capitalization. It’s worth noting this list also includes healthcare companies that work closely with pharmaceuticals, including biotech, pharmaceutical retailers, clinical laboratories, etc.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this graphic was missing some key companies such as GSK and AbbVie. They were unfortunately not included in the original source and we are now working to make sure there were no other smaller omissions. Thanks to all that sent in corrections.
The Pharmaceutical Leaders
To start, here are the top five biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world at the moment by market capitalization:
1. Johnson & Johnson
The pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant is worth $428.7 billion in market cap. They developed the third vaccine authorized for use in the U.S. and were named among the TIME100 Most Influential Companies List in 2021.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant is at the forefront of oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, ophthalmology, and neuroscience. In 2019, Roche’s pharma segment sales rose by a healthy 16% to $53 billion.
Despite being the leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer in North America, Pfizer slid in the rankings to third place. The company has recently gained momentum, especially in the past quarter, with Q2’2021 revenues of $19.0 billion, reflecting a 86% operational growth from 2020.
4. Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly has taken a significant step towards establishing itself as a pharmaceutical industry leader. Having a market cap value of $125 billion in 2019, Eli Lilly has jumped to a current value of $214.9 billion, a significant growth of 72%.
The second-biggest pharmaceutical company out of Switzerland, Novartis has been the face of the pharma industry for about 25 years. The primary manufacturer for the most recognizable drugs on the market pulled in a revenue of over $48 billion in 2020, a 3% increase compared to 2019.
Here’s how all the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world stack up against each other:
|Company Rank||Company Name||Market Cap Value||Country|
|1||Johnson & Johnson|
|$428.66 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$320.41 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|$219.39 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$208.99 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$207.70 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|$202.60 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$191.67 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$187.83 B||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|$152.28 B||🇬🇧 UK|
|$145.80 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$136.50 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$130.37 B||🇫🇷 France|
|$110.49 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$104.30 B||🇬🇧 UK|
|$103.10 B||🇦🇺 Australia|
|$83.62 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$83.25 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$80.61 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|$59.43 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|20||Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine |
|$58.51 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$55.83 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$55.00 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$54.23 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|$52.67 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$52.16 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|26||Walgreens Boots Alliance|
|$45.05 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$33.80 B||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|$33.42 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$31.65 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$31.20 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$26.59 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|32||Hansoh Pharma |
|$26.00 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$25.97 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|34||Otsuka Holdings |
|$23.15 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|35||Horizon Therapeutics |
|$21.13 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|36||Alnylam Pharmaceuticals |
|$20.42 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$18.85 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$18.74 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$18.48 B||🇭🇰 Hong Kong|
|$17.25 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$16.26 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$16.03 B||🇳🇱 Netherlands|
|$15.29 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$11.88 B||🇮🇳 India|
|45||Teva Pharmaceutical Industries|
|$11.21 B||🇮🇱 Israel|
|46||Ono Pharmaceutical |
|$11.12 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$11.09 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|48||Bausch Health |
|$10.47 B||🇨🇦 Canada|
|$10.42 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|$10.33 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|51||Hualan Biological Engineering|
|$10.31 B||🇨🇳 China|
|$9.49 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|53||Neurocrine Biosciences |
|$9.45 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$9.42 B||🇨🇳 China|
|55||BridgeBio Pharma |
|$8.89 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|56||Cadila Healthcare |
|$8.59 B||🇮🇳 India|
|57||Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma |
|$8.16 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$7.89 B||🇨🇦 Canada|
|59||Ascendis Pharma |
|$7.51 B||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|$7.19 B||🇩🇪 Germany|
|61||Lupin Limited |
|$7.04 B||🇮🇳 India|
|62||Gland Pharma |
|$7.01 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$6.95 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|64||GW Pharmaceuticals |
|$6.81 B||🇬🇧 UK|
|$6.78 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|66||Torrent Pharmaceuticals |
|$6.61 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$6.43 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$6.32 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|69||Sarepta Therapeutics |
|$6.25 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$6.21 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|$6.11 B||🇫🇮 Finland|
|$6.04 B||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|$5.87 B||🇨🇦 Canada|
|74||Adaptive Biotechnologies |
|$5.69 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|75||Intellia Therapeutics |
|$5.62 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|76||Santen Pharmaceutical |
|$5.49 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|$5.46 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|78||Beam Therapeutics |
|$5.43 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|79||Reata Pharmaceuticals |
|$5.15 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|80||Swedish Orphan Biovitrum|
|$5.13 B||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|81||BB Biotech |
|$5.08 B||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|82||Alkem Laboratories |
|$5.00 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$4.69 B||🇮🇳 India|
|84||Laurus Labs |
|$4.44 B||🇮🇳 India|
|85||Taisho Pharmaceutical |
|$4.39 B||🇯🇵 Japan|
|86||Hanmi Pharmaceutical |
|$4.22 B||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|$3.87 B||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|$3.71 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$3.65 B||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|$3.55 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|91||Ipca Laboratories |
|$3.41 B||🇮🇳 India|
|92||Nektar Therapeutics |
|$3.02 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|93||BioCryst Pharmaceuticals |
|$3.01 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$2.96 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|$2.84 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|96||Rocket Pharmaceuticals |
|$2.74 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|97||Axsome Therapeutics |
|$2.65 B||🇺🇸 USA|
|98||Natco Pharma |
|$2.63 B||🇮🇳 India|
|$2.59 B||🇮🇳 India|
|100||Editas Medicine |
|$2.54 B||🇺🇸 USA|
World’s Largest Pharmaceutical Exporters and Importers
According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), these countries exported the most number of pharmaceuticals in the year 2019:
|Rank||Country||Export Value (US$B)|
In contrast, here are the biggest importers over the same period.
|Rank||Country||Import Value (US$B)|
This position is hardly surprising for the U.S., where six of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies are headquartered. The country also captures 45% of the global market.
The Future of Pharmaceutical Companies
If the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that in building a patient-centered future, the pharmaceutical industry plays a key role. It has to constantly find new ways to customize medicines while researching and developing new tools and drugs.
By embracing disruptive technologies like 3D printed drugs, artificial intelligence guided therapies, and preventive medicine while working with regulatory agencies, the pharmaceutical companies will benefit from having a digital revolution.
Furthermore, emerging markets will have a more significant say in the global pharmaceutical market in the coming years. Even though ‘big pharma’ will keep raking in the massive profits they do every year, their reliance on countries like Brazil and India for research and drug production will significantly impact the years to come.
When Will Your Country Recover from the Pandemic?
The path to COVID-19 recovery varies worldwide—some countries have already recovered, while others will not be back to normal for years.
What started as a novel virus in China quickly became a sweeping disease that shut down the world and put a 1.5 year halt on the global economy.
But while some countries’ economies are already back to normal, others are lagging far behind.
COVID-19 Recovery Timelines, by OECD Country
This chart using data from the OECD anticipates when countries will economically recover from the global pandemic, based on getting back to pre-pandemic levels of GDP per capita.
Note: The categorization of ‘advanced’ or ‘emerging’ economy was determined by OECD standards.
The Leaders of the Pack
At the top, China and the U.S. are recovering at breakneck speed. In fact, recovering is the wrong word for China, as they reached pre-pandemic GDP per capita levels just after Q2’2020.
On the other end, some countries are looking at years—not months—when it comes to their recovery date. Saudi Arabia isn’t expected to recover until after Q1’2024, and Argentina is estimated to have an even slower recovery, occurring only after Q2’2026.
|🇧🇪 Belgium||After Q4 2022||Advanced|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇩🇪 Germany||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||After Q4 2021||Advanced|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||After Q3 2023||Advanced|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇵🇹 Portugal||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇫🇷 France||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇦🇹 Austria||After Q3 2022||Advanced|
|🇵🇱 Poland||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇳🇴 Norway||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇱🇺 Luxembourg||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇯🇵 Japan||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇫🇮 Finland||After Q3 2021||Advanced|
|🇪🇸 Spain||After Q2 2023||Advanced|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇮🇹 Italy||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇬🇷 Greece||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇨🇦 Canada||After Q2 2022||Advanced|
|🇺🇸 United States||After Q2 2021||Advanced|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||After Q2 2021||Advanced|
|🇮🇪 Ireland||After Q2 2021||Advanced|
|🇨🇭 Switzerland||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇮🇱 Israel||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇦🇺 Australia||After Q1 2022||Advanced|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||After Q1 2021||Advanced|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||After Q4 2022||Emerging|
|🇮🇩 Indonesia||After Q4 2021||Emerging|
|🇮🇳 India||After Q4 2021||Emerging|
|🇲🇽 Mexico||After Q3 2023||Emerging|
|🇨🇴 Colombia||After Q3 2022||Emerging|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||After Q3 2022||Emerging|
|🇨🇱 Chile||After Q3 2021||Emerging|
|🇹🇷 Turkey||After Q3 2020||Emerging|
|🇦🇷 Argentina||After Q2 2026||Emerging|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||After Q2 2023||Emerging|
|🇷🇺 Russia||After Q2 2021||Emerging|
|🇨🇳 China||After Q2 2020||Emerging|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||After Q1 2024||Emerging|
Most countries will hit pre-pandemic levels of GDP per capita by the end of 2022. The slowest recovering advanced economies—Iceland and Spain—aren’t expected to bounce back until 2023.
Four emerging economies are speeding ahead, and are predicted to get back on their feet by the end of this year or slightly later (if they haven’t already):
- 🇷🇺 Russia: after Q2’2021
- 🇨🇱 Chile: after Q3’2021
- 🇮🇳 India: after Q4’2021
- 🇮🇩 Indonesia: after Q4’2021
However, no recovery is guaranteed, and many countries will continue face setbacks as waves of COVID-19 variants hit—India, for example, was battling its biggest wave as recently as May 2021.
Why are some countries recovering faster than others? One factor seems to be vaccination rates.
|Country||Doses Administered per 100 People||Total Doses Administered||Percent of Population Fully Vaccinated|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||122||81,438,892||53%|
|Trinidad and Tobago||27||375,924||11%|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||23||25,509||–|
|West Bank & Gaza||20||958,519||9%|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||18||37,716||5%|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||14||470,218||5%|
|Republic of the Congo||3||163,742||–|
|Central African Republic||1.7||78,685||–|
|Papua New Guinea||0.6||51,170||<0.1%|
As of July 16th, 2021.
The higher the rate of vaccination, the harder it is for COVID-19 to spread. This gives countries a chance to loosen restrictions, let people get back to work and regular life, and fuel the economy. Additionally, the quicker vaccines are rolled out, the less time there is for variants to mutate.
Another factor is the overall strength of a country’s healthcare infrastructure. More advanced economies often have more ICU capacity, more efficient dissemination of public health information, and, simply, more hospital staff. These traits help better handle the pandemic, with reduced cases, less restrictions, and a speedy recovery.
Finally, the level of government support and fiscal stimulus injected into different economies has determined how swiftly they’ve recovered. Similar to the disparity in vaccine rollouts, there was a significant fiscal stimulus gap, especially during the heat of the pandemic.
Recovering to Normal?
Many experts and government leaders are now advocating for funneling more money into healthcare infrastructure and disease research preventatively. The increased funding now would help stop worldwide shut downs and needless loss of life in future.
Time will tell when we return to “normal” everywhere, however, normal will likely never be the same. Many impacts of the global pandemic will stay with us over the long term.
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