The coronavirus vaccines are coming -- or at least the odds are looking better every day that they are.

Investors who want to potentially benefit from the launches of coronavirus vaccines have plenty of options from which to choose. However, the number of low-risk leaders in the race are few. Here are three coronavirus vaccine stocks that are relatively safe bets right now.

Vials labeled "coronavirus vaccine injection only."

Image source: Getty Images.

1. AstraZeneca

You might wonder why AstraZeneca (AZN 0.07%) ranks first on the list. After all, the big drugmaker temporarily paused its late-stage testing of COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222 after a clinical trial participant experienced an unexplained illness. Even with this setback, though, AstraZeneca appears to be a great stock to buy when you look at the big picture.

First of all, it seems likely that AZD1222 will get back on track soon. Phase 3 testing of the experimental vaccine has already resumed in the U.K. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot expects the company will still be in a position to announce interim results from the study before the end of this year

The main reasons to buy AstraZeneca, though, are its strong current product lineup and promising pipeline. AstraZeneca's cancer drugs especially enjoy tremendous momentum, with three blockbusters delivering year-over-year growth of 45% or more in the first half of 2020. The drugmaker also has a pipeline loaded with potential winners, including nine new candidates in late-stage testing.

It's not surprising that Wall Street analysts expect AstraZeneca to generate average annual earnings growth of 19% over the next five years. Investors also should like the pharma company's solid dividend, which currently yields over 2.5%.

2. Pfizer

Bill Gates thinks Pfizer (PFE -0.43%) is the clear leader in the coronavirus vaccine race. He's probably right. The big pharmaceutical company and its partner, German biotech BioNTech (BNTX -4.08%), appear to be on track to report late-stage results for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate BNT162b2 sooner than other rivals.

If Pfizer and BioNTech win emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, they stand to receive $1.95 billion from the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of BNT162b2. That deal could be expanded to include another 400 million doses. In addition, the two companies have major supply deals in place with Canada and Japan and are negotiating an agreement with the European Commission. 

Pfizer's growth should soon get a nice boost regardless of what happens with BNT162b2, though. The company hopes to close a merger of its Upjohn unit with Mylan (MYL) in the fourth quarter. This transaction would divest Pfizer's older drugs that have lost patent exclusivity. It would leave Pfizer with a solid lineup of winners like blood thinner Eliquis and rare-disease drug Vyndaqel, plus a pipeline with 90 clinical programs, including four awaiting regulatory approval and 23 in late-stage testing.

Investors who choose to keep their shares of the new entity created by the Upjohn-Mylan merger (Viatris) will receive a combined dividend from Pfizer and Viatris that's roughly the same as what the "old" Pfizer paid. Pfizer's dividend yield currently stands at 4.1%. But investors who opt to sell their stake in Viatris will still enjoy an attractive dividend.

3. Johnson & Johnson 

Johnson & Johnson 's(JNJ 0.06%) lags behind AstraZeneca and Pfizer with its coronavirus vaccine program. However, the healthcare giant plans to begin late-stage clinical studies of Ad26.COV2.S this month.

Don't underestimate J&J's prospects in the COVID-19 vaccine race. The company could have a big advantage: While rival vaccines require two doses, Ad26.COV2.S could be effective with only one dose. 

Of course, sales generated by a successful coronavirus vaccine would still be a drop in the bucket for Johnson & Johnson. The company made over $82 billion in revenue last year. It's a leader in consumer health, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. J&J's financial position allows it to invest in research and development and acquisitions to ensure that it stays on top.

Like AstraZeneca and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson offers a strong dividend (currently yielding 2.7%). Even better, J&J is a Dividend Aristocrat with an impressive track record of 58 consecutive years of dividend increases.