Moderna, Pfizer join the popular crowd, catapulting into the top 10 of America's favorite companies

Americans love their vaccine makers. Cases in point? Moderna and Pfizer leaped into the top 10 best-regarded companies in the U.S. in the annual Axios Harris 100 survey.

They’re the first biopharma companies to crack the top 10 in the ranking’s 20-year history. Johnson & Johnson, which counts pharma as one of its three divisions, has landed in the top 10 before; this year, it hit No. 72 on the list with a reputation score roughly the same as 2020’s.

Meanwhile, Moderna ranked third, while Pfizer came in at No. 7 on the strength of its product and innovation scores, nabbing high marks for vision and culture along the way.

“That’s not typical at all and reinforces that it’s not just a product, it’s that people are seeing these companies in a very different light,” The Harris Poll Managing Director Rob Jekielek said. “They get that there’s a vaccine, but they also see the incredible leadership drive, and they clearly see the people behind the vaccines—the scientists.”

Both Pfizer and Moderna scored 10 to 20 points higher across all measures when compared to last year’s results. Pfizer rose 54 places on the list, while Moderna did not make the 2020 top 100 at all.

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The No. 1 ranked company overall in 2021 was outdoor clothing and gear maker Patagonia, followed by Honda Motor Company just in front of Moderna. Fast food giant Chick-Fil-A, Elon Musk’s space venture SpaceX and online pet retailer Chewy rounded out the top six in front of Pfizer.

Still more noteworthy, especially for previously unknown Moderna, is that Harris compiles the list of top 100 companies from write-in votes. That is, they ask more than 40,000 people to name companies off the top of their heads versus giving a predetermined list to choose from.

Researchers then use the information to compile the list of the 100 most popular companies.

A second survey asks people whether they are “familiar or very familiar” with a company. Those who say yes go on to answer questions about them. Harris calculates a final reputation score for each company by measuring trust, culture, ethics, citizenship, vision, growth, and product and services based on quality and innovation.

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While J&J didn’t fare nearly as well as the other two vaccine makers this year, there may be a reason, Jekielek said. The survey was taken during the recent FDA-mandated pause in J&J vaccine distribution to investigate rare reports of blood clots. That news may have dimmed peoples' perceptions.

Before the pharma top finishers get too cocky, though, they may want to consider something else the 2021 Harris ranking seemed to show—Americans can be fickle.

Last year at this time, as the pandemic was getting into full swing—and as people were disinfecting doorknobs, working from home and ordering groceries online—Clorox was No. 1 on the list of Americans’ favorite companies, and newbies Instacart, Peloton and Zoom all made the list for the first time.

This year? Not one of those four brands cracked the top 100.