Some of the COVID-19 vaccines just got new names

Comirnaty, SpikeVax and Vaxzevria have replaced what we have come to know as the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Maija Kappler 3 minute read September 16, 2021
covid vaccine names

The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are now called Comirnaty, SpikeVax and Vaxzevria, respectively. (David W. Cerny / Reuters)

Health Canada’s announcement Thursday that the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines had new names were met with a lot of confusion. Why is the Pfizer vaccine now being referred to as Comirnaty, Moderna as SpikeVax, and the AstraZeneca vaccine, Vaxzevria?

The answer actually signals a major step forward for those three vaccines. The companies are allowed to brand their vaccines the way they want to in Canada because they’ve now officially been fully approved by Health Canada.

The vaccines were temporarily approved for use in December under interim orders — essentially, the agency ruled that they were safe enough to approve temporarily, given the need for immediate action to combat the significant risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But on Thursday, the vaccines received full approval. Following that approval, Health Canada has ruled that the companies can advertise the vaccines under the names they chose for them. According to pharmaceutical industry news outlet Fierce Pharma, the news names — Comirnaty, SpikeVax and Vaxzevria — have been in use in some advertising in Europe since June.

“Today’s decision by Health Canada affirms the efficacy and safety profile of our vaccine at a time when it is urgently needed,” Fabien Paquette, Pfizer Canada’s vaccine lead, said in a press release.

The release added that “although the vaccine’s brand name will be Comirnaty following this approval, Canada will continue to receive vials of the vaccine labeled as Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.”

Moderna, too, issued a release about the development.

“Health Canada’s approval of our COVID-19 vaccine is an important milestone as it is our first full approval for Spikevax,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO. “I would like to thank Health Canada for their hard work throughout the process.”

The new names inspired a lot of Twitter jokes, including several references to the vaccines sounding like Pokemon characters. Some people worried the news would confuse people into believing the vaccines have changed, or potentially lead to more vaccine hesitancy. But as experts pointed out, it’s normal for drugs and vaccines to have specific brand names. In most cases, names take a long time to get approval, however, given the urgency of the pandemic, the products were released long before official names had been approved.

The brand names might not catch on right away, admitted the president of operations and communications at Brand Institute, which developed all three vaccine names.

“It’s going to take some time for the vaccine brand names to establish traction, understanding and awareness in the market,” Scott Piergrossi told Fierce Pharma.