Pfizer-BioNTech picks bizarre brand name for its COVID vaccine

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After gaining full FDA approval for its COVID-19 vaccination in August 2021, pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech took what is perhaps the natural next step and gave the vaccine a name for marketing purposes.

Almost all medications get a “brand” name that’s used on the packaging and advertising to help set it apart from others.

Those same medications also have a corresponding “generic” name that can contain names that reference the family of drugs it’s in, what it treats and how is delivered or made.

Eventually, assuming COVID-19 decides to stick around, there may become a point when vaccine makers put on a more competitive face and try to convince consumers of one over the other.

For now, the big pharma companies behind available COVID-19 vaccines have largely been playing nice, with a focus on getting as many vaccines, no matter what brand, into arms to try to defeat the pandemic.

Most Americans know names such as Viagra, Boniva, Lipitor and Celebrex (“celebrate, celebrate, Celebrex”).

These names are typically “made up” words that are developed by branding experts to embody the purpose of the drug but also make it stick in the heads of its target audience so they can, as it goes, “ask their doctor about (fill in the blank).”

Some pharmaceutical companies even have a bank of potential drug names — along with the corresponding domain name and toll free number — ready to go and then, when a drug gets ready to hit the market, go back and pick one from the pool that works.

Of course, the examples given above were widely successful examples of drug naming — and the words have all but become household names in America.

The COVID-19 vaccine’s name, on the other hand, doesn’t seem likely for that destiny.

It’s called “Comirnaty.”

Not only is it bizarre to spell, it’s hard to say. According to the official FDA paperwork, it’s supposed to be said “koe-mir-na-tee” — which isn’t exactly the most helpful advice.

Apparently the name is meant to be a mashup of “COVID-19 immunity” with the suggestion of “mRNA” in the middle. It was picked because it supposedly helps evoke a sense of community and collectiveness.

According to FierceParma, other names under consideration included Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna and RNXtract.

For a logo, the drug is branded with an all caps purple geometric sans serif with gradient effects applied to the strokes. There’s also an orange-red, triangular shaped “connected dots” icon that looks a bit like the “share” icon use on some news websites along with fainter purple dots.

It’s reminiscent of drawings of atoms and even the structure of the coronavirus itself — as well as feeding into that “connected” message.

Apparently this name has been in the works for some time.

Based on U.S. Patent and Trademark records, BioNTech filed for trademark protection of the name June 1, 2020. It was made public for “opposition” Jan. 19, 2021, and approved April 6, 2021.

BioNTech also filed for trademarks for the other names noted above. The company had already been granted the trademark for “RNXtract” in 2017, but it was for “chemicals used in industry and science,” “diagnostic preparations” and “cartridges and columns filled with chromatographic support materials” (whatever that means).

In the U.S., trademarks must be filed to be used within specific categories. That means, at least in theory, someone could start making a shoe called “Comirnaty” and potentially be safe from trademark infringement since Pfizer-BioNTech’s protection, at least on paper, only covers human vaccines.

It’s not uncommon for companies to register potential product names as trademarks ahead of time, including when they ultimately know only one will be picked. It’s sort of a proactive method of protecting their rights — and the comparatively small legal fees to do so make it advantageous.

The drug makers own and the Twitter handle @comirnaty was created in December 2020 but currently only features an emoji-style image of a person wearing a face mask (it also calls itself “Comirnaty” with the “TM” mark next to it).

Meanwhile, with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine approved in Europe, the company announced it will mark its vaccine under the name “SpikeVax.”

Moderna apparently pursued registering trademarks on names such as “Wuhan Vax,” “COVID MVax” and “COVID Vax” along with “SpykeVax” as names. It also registered the generic sounding name “Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine,” according to USPTO records.

The “Wuhan” name is particularly of note because most reputable health organizations have started to advise against naming viruses or pathogens after geographic places and references to China have become taboo in relation to the coronavirus pandemic and rise of Asian hate.

Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, has registrations for names including “Jasrevden.” “Clemetala,” “Talfrezan,” “Talfonza” and “Stantala. They have also been filed recently for use in connection with vaccines and related treatments, but these names could be for other potential products as well.

The J&J vaccine, along with Moderna’s, is awaiting full FDA approval in the U.S. as of Aug. 31, 2021.