Pfizer, AstraZeneca Registering New Names for Bs-19 Jabs
By Benedict Brook
Over the coming months, millions of Australians will roll up a sleeve to get the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, just as millions have done for the AstraZeneca shot already.
But if you take a look at the vial before the syringe goes in, you may notice something curious – the lack of the actual Pfizer name on the label.
The most prominent name on the pack is one few Aussies will have seen before. That name is “Comirnaty”.
Similarly, when the US-produced Moderna vaccine heads our way, the vials will likely say “Spikevax”.
It’s OK – they’re all the real deal. You’re not getting an Aldi-esque version of a vaccine, where the pack looks similar to a big name but it’s a different brand.
Rather, all the big vaccine companies are trying to dial down their corporate names as the Covid-19 shot is rolled out. And if you look closely, there are some secret messages in these new names.
At the moment, most of the big covid vaccines are chiefly known by the companies or organisations that developed and produce them: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson etc.
But that’s a bit of an issue because all these companies produce lots of products, not just a single inoculation.
So having the “Pfizer jab” is a bit like a big Japanese automaker calling its newest product the “Toyota car” despite it having a whole raft of other vehicles.
Pfizer, for instance, produces large numbers of vaccines. The US firm has one for pneumococcal disease, one for meningococcal disease and another for a tick-borne encephalitis.
Similarly, AstraZeneca develops and produces flu vaccines. If they were all called the “Pfizer shot” or the “AstraZeneca vaccine”, it would all get very confusing.
The various drug companies have therefore been busy dreaming up names that they can slap on their covid shot vials that, at the very least, reduce the prominence of their company brand.
Ideally, development of the vaccine and its unique brand would have happened hand-in-hand. But the pandemic priority was protecting people, not thinking up natty names.
According to IP Australia, the government body that assesses and registers trademarks, Pfizer was the first company off the blocks.
The name “Comirnaty” was registered at the end of October.
It was created by US company Brand Institute which is somewhat prolific in this field, having also produced the alternative names for the AstraZeneca and Moderna jabs too.
Speaking to pharmaceutical news site Fierce Pharma late last year, Brand Institute executive Scott Piergrossi said the goal in naming drugs was to overlap various ideas and layers of meaning into a simple but very unique brand.
Secret lurking in Comirnaty name
Pfizer themselves were keen on the concept of community, which was the starting point.
But the consultancy came up with an Easter egg, subtly shoehorning the letters mRNA into the new name which is the family of vaccines the Pfizer shot belongs to.
“The name is coined from Covid-19 immunity, and then embeds the mRNA in the middle, which is the platform technology, and as a whole the name is meant to evoke the word community,” said Mr Piergrossi.
Breaking Comirnaty down, the “Co” is for covid, MRNA is hidden in the central five letters and then it ends with “ty”, which could represent both community and immunity. Overall, the name sounds a bit like “community”.
Pfizer also trademarked a number of other brands that didn’t make the cut including Covuity, Kovimerna and RNXtract.
AstraZeneca and Moderna’s new names
More recently, UK-Swedish firm AstraZeneca trademarked the brand “Vaxzevria” in Australia.
Vaxzevria is slowly being rolled out after also getting the green light as an acceptable brand from European health authorities in March.
The Indian produced version of AstraZeneca is called “Covishield”.
Moderna has plumped for the jaunty name “Spikevax”. A trademark application for Spikevax was received by IP Australia in May and is currently being mulled over.
The Brand Institute also coined that name. It’s notable for having fewer syllables and being less of a tongue twister than other pharmaceutical names.
“At two syllables with a vax suffix, that’s considered a big win from a branding standpoint in the pharma and vaccine industry,” Mr Piergrossi told Fierce Pharma last month.
The simple explanation behind its name is that it combines “spike” from the virus’ spike protein and “vax” for vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson is a bit behind its rivals in coming up with a snappy moniker for its jab. But it’s looking at Jycovson, Jcovsen and Jycovden as possible marques.
All the brands have to be approved by local regulators. In the US none of the new brands have been okayed yet, so there the company names are still used.
Mr Piergrossi said it might be a while before the new names catch on, given we’ve all been talking about Pfizer and AstraZeneca for months.
“It’s going to take some time for the vaccine brand names to establish traction, understanding and awareness in the market,” he said.
However, the speed at which the world went from talking about the “Indian variant” to “Delta” might mean we’ll go from “Pfizer” to “Comirnaty” quicker than expected.