Wondering how Comirnaty was named? Well you have come to the right place! In this article Dr. Jeff Boden of the global branding consultancy Kaleio, Inc. provides the story behind Pfizer’s oddly named mRNA vaccine.
Authored by: Jeff Boden, Ph.D.
Article Posted: 24 August 2021
On August 23rd, FDA approved the BLA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, otherwise known by its brand name, COMIRNATY. It was no less than 1 hour after the news broke that a friend of mine who is a personal injury lawyer, sent me this meme:
[Photo shows person who navigated earlier difficult steps but falls short on the step with the name label]
He’s not the only one to be surprised by the lackluster brand name for this blockbuster vaccine. Several articles have since been published that have highlighted the ermahgerd style of COMIRNATY, including this one in USA Today. A representative for the naming agency that worked on the name says that it “represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity.”
Being the former manager of said agency’s Creative Department, kicking an approved name when it’s down would be unbecoming. After all, as my mom always used to say: “If you can’t say anything nice…” However, I am not above pointing out the obvious. The name itself is clearly a spin of COMMUNITY, that was force-fed the MRNA letter string. What you end up with is a mutated variant that embeds the abbreviation for microRNA (MIRNA) rather than mRNA. Scientifically speaking, the name is flat out misleading. The agency behind COMIRNATY also claims to have simultaneously worked on Moderna’s Spikevax, another name that is short on creativity but hits the nail on the head in terms of product identity.
As an active member of the International Nonproprietary Names (INN) /United States Adopted Names (USAN) community, I was surprised to see that the proper name, or nonproprietary name, for COMIRNATY is “COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA.” It is true that prophylactic vaccines are not traditionally assigned nonproprietary names by USAN or INN. However, because the composition of the active mRNA drug substance is a single entity that can be unequivocally characterized by a nucleotide sequence, it falls within the scope of INN/USAN nomenclature. The WHO International Nonproprietary Names Programme published a correspondence in The Lancet in February 2021, highlighting their support of the use of INN for mRNA and DNA-based vaccines stating, “The assignment of a unique and distinct INN to the active substances in each vaccine would contribute to safe prescribing, transnational distribution, enhanced pharmacovigilance, and, ultimately, the safety of vaccine recipients, as it does for therapeutic medicinal substances.” The INN for COMIRNATY is tozinameran, which makes use of the –meran pre-stem, defined for messenger RNA (mRNA). The official INN definition of the mRNA molecule can be found in pINN List 124 here.
Unfortunately, we now have a rare situation where COMIRNATY will have a different nonproprietary in the US versus EU and other regional territories. Is this a big problem? Probably not for now. Everyone will just call them “the Pfizer vaccine” or “the Moderna vaccine”, but perhaps the situation will become complicated in the future when variant vaccine cocktails are available in a year or two. One thing is certain, the COMIRNATY memes and mispronunciations will continue long after the pandemic is over.
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