The coronavirus is smashing stock markets across the globe. In nearly every sector and asset class, valuations are tumbling as investors wrestle with the economic impact of this deadly virus. The offshoot of this "sell first, ask questions later" mentality is that a handful of stocks are getting unfairly punished right now.

Dividend-paying pharmaceutical stocks are a prime example. Pharmaceuticals are one of the few areas of the economy that will likely prove resistant to the painful economic effects of social distancing, making their dividends a fairly safe bet going forward. The same can't be said for airlines, big-box retailers, cruise ships, restaurants, or even a fair number of tech stocks. As such, pharmaceutical companies that pay an above average dividend should prove to be a safe harbor from the coronavirus fallout, once everything is said and done.  

Dollar bills rolled up in the shape of a growing bar graph.

Image source: Getty Images.

Which dividend-paying pharma stocks are a must-own right now? AbbVie (ABBV 0.12%), Gilead Sciences (GILD 0.13%), and Pfizer (PFE -1.01%) are three top biopharmas investors may want to look to for safe haven in this chaotic environment. Here's why.  

AbbVie: An ultra-high yield biopharmaceutical play

AbbVie's shares are down by 16% so far this year. There are three clear-cut reasons why investors might want to go ahead and catch this falling knife right now. First off, AbbVie's shares are now trading at less than three times forward-looking sales. That's a historically dirt cheap valuation.

Second, the drugmaker's sharp pullback has caused its dividend yield to skyrocket to an eye-catching 6.3% at current levels. AbbVie's shares are thus offering a junk-bond type yield right now.

Third, the company's product portfolio sports several medicines patients simply can't go without for very long, such as the arthritis drug Humira and the cancer drugs Imbruvica and Venclexta.

So, once the market gets back to normal a few months from now, AbbVie's stock should quickly regain its footing. Meanwhile, investors can bank the biopharma's monstrous dividend yield and wait for better days.  

Gilead: A leader in the realm of infectious diseases

Gilead has been one of the few winners in this market. Because of its experimental coronavirus treatment remdesivir, investors have bid up this large-cap biotech stock by a respectable 6% in 2020. Nonetheless, Gilead's stock still offers an above-average dividend yield of 3.9% and its shares are only trading at about 3.9 times next year's sales right now. That's a bargain any way you cut it.

What's more, the biotech's stock might be even cheaper. If remdesivir hits the mark in its late-stage program for COVID-19 (the respiratory illness caused by this coronavirus), Gilead could be in line for a massive revenue windfall. The long and short of it is that remdesivir is the only drug capable of bending the curve on this global pandemic in the near-term. That fact alone should attract bargain hunters. 

The real reason to buy Gilead's stock during this marketwide sell-off, though, is the company's strong outlook. By signing a sizable collaborative deal with the Belgian biotech Galapagos NV, Gilead may have secured its next flagship product: the anti-inflammatory medication filgotinib. Moreover, the biotech's cancer franchise is starting to round into shape. As proof, the biotech is close to gaining some key regulatory approvals in the area of anti-cancer cellular therapies, and it recently acquired the CD47 drugmaker Forty Seven

All told, Gilead's stellar dividend yield, improving top-line prospects, and tie-in to the global COVID-19 pandemic make this biotech a must-own stock right now.    

Pfizer: Dog of the Dow no more

Pfizer was one of the worst components of the Dow Jones in 2019. However, Pfizer's stock has actually outperformed this broader index by a wide margin in 2020, even though its shares have actually performed rather poorly. There are several reasons behind Pfizer's relative strength in this volatile market.

First off, Pfizer's dividend yield now stands at a jaw-dropping 5%. That kind of yield is nearly unheard of for a blue chip big pharma stock or a large-cap healthcare stock.

The company also manufactures and distributes a wide range of essential medicines, such as the breast cancer drug Ibrance, blood thinner Eliquis, and the nerve pain drug Lyrica. Demand for these drugs may wane somewhat as the global economy sputters, but the sales of these critical medicines won't come to a screeching halt.

Pfizer's shares have been trading at an absurdly low sales multiple for months now due to concerns over its forthcoming breakup. Last year, Pfizer announced plans to combine its generic drug business with Mylan.

Wall Street wasn't too fond of the idea because of its potential impacts on the company's free cash flows and deal-making capacity. But these fears are likely overblown. The bottom line is that Pfizer's branded drug business has been growing by leaps and bounds of late. Therefore, a breakup should allow this outstanding top-line growth to shine through, attracting a stronger base of growth-oriented investors.

All things considered, Pfizer's stock has all the tools to mount a rapid comeback in the back half of 2020. In a worst-case scenario, though, this top drugmaker should at least fall at a slower pace than the broader markets during this coronavirus-induced sell-off. As an added bonus, Pfizer is in no danger of slashing its dividend. Patient investors can sit back and collect this generous dividend while the market figures out what to do next.