The brand name of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is a mouthful, and its public introduction tied to the Food and Drug Administration’s granting full-use approval only appears to have made those already hesitant to get it even more skeptical, medical experts say.
The new name, Comirnaty, became the punch line of late-night TV show hosts, who this past week have mocked its difficult pronunciation. That too, seems, to have added to its obscurity and distrust among at least some.
For months, the vaccine approved under the emergency use authorization (EUA) was widely referred to as the Pfizer vaccine, and the new name has caused Americans, who are already weary about the vaccine, to question what the FDA actually endorsed as the approved vaccine.
The FDA told Newsmax that Comirnaty has the same formulation as the EUA vaccine and is administered as a series of two doses, three weeks apart, which is identical to how the vaccine with EUA has been administered.
However, health officials agree confusion over the rollout of the new name has added another level of concern for those who are already on the fence about getting jabbed. Some of the vaccine hesitant have questioned if the newly approved vaccine, Comirnaty, is actually the same shot that was tested in rigorous clinical trials.
Dr. Robert Lahita, Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health and author of forthcoming "Immunity Strong," said the new name "almost cancels out the fact the FDA has finally approved the vaccine."
"It’s going to take the removal of hesitancy that FDA approval was supposed to bring, and squirt hesitancy into the brains of those who were just about on the doorstep of having their injections."
He said it is as if someone "threw a monkey wrench into our vaccine hesitancy plan."
Dr. Michael Miller, a health care and life sciences expert who has been focused on promoting vaccine confidence, said it is possible that "those seeking to spread mistrust of vaccines will twist the name for the newly approved vaccine as something ‘really new’ and ‘untested.’"
However, he doesn’t expect the name confusion to have a large effect on the number of people who are hesitant to get inoculated.
"I would not expect to sway people who are possibly looking to get vaccinated to a harder no stance," he said. "In contrast, it has been speculated that the full FDA approval may help some who are hesitant because the vaccine was not fully approved to go ahead and get vaccinated."
Part of the confusion is likely due to the fact that consumers tend to refer to vaccines by their maker or what they protect against. When going to get a flu shot, it is uncommon for someone to call the vaccine Fluarix or Afluria. However, it appears these vaccine makers are hoping the catchy names resonate with the public.
Public health experts say the new name, pronounced koh-MEER-nah-tee (or officially koe-mir’-na-tee), is all a part of the FDA’s extensive approval process. The administration has a 42-page set of guidelines that drug makers have to adhere to when coming up with a moniker.
Requirements include crafting a memorable name that is not easily confused with other medications on the market. Drug makers can reference the drug’s technology but can’t include any active ingredients.
The name Comirnaty was whipped up by marketing firm Brand Institute, according to Fierce Pharma.
In December 2020, Brand Institute president of operations and communications, Scott Piergrossi, told the outlet that 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."
A spokesperson for Pfizer told Newsmax that the vaccine will be "marketed under the brand name COMIRNATY, which represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity, to highlight the first approval of a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, as well as the joint global efforts that made this achievement possible with unprecedented rigor and efficiency – and with safety at the forefront – during this global pandemic."
The co-prefix is a nod to coronavirus, mRNA is referenced in the middle, and the -ty suffix is an ode to community and immunity.
Drug makers landed on Comirnaty after tossing around other options: Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna, and RNXtract. Those names were all possible contenders that were registered for with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over the summer.
Americans shouldn’t be surprised to see Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine marketed under a different name if it receives full FDA clearance. The Brand Institute was also the team responsible for coming up with the name Spikevax, which was approved by the European Medicine Association.
Spikevax pays homage to the spiky structure of the virus and the word vaccine.
According to Fierce Pharma, Moderna also filed trademark requests for the names: Spykevax, Mnravax, Mvax, Covid Mvax, and Covidvax.
Earlier filings with the patent office, which have since been listed as "abandoned" included names with Wuhan, the city where the virus is believed to have originated. The possible names were Wuhan Vax and Wuhan Corona MVax.
The possible names for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine once it receives FDA approval are: Jcovden, Jcovav, Evcoyan, Jycovson, Jcovsen, and Jycovden.
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