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It's Pronounced Koe-mir'-na-tee. How The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine's Name Came To Be

In this March photo, pharmacy technician Hollie Maloney loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. The U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.
In this March photo, pharmacy technician Hollie Maloney loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. The U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.

Say it with me: Koe-mir'-na-tee.

Comirnaty, as it's known, is the official, brand name for Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration this week gave full approval to the vaccine for people 16 and older.

As part of the approval process, the vaccine also gets its brand name approved for use in the U.S.

So, how did Pfizer and BioNTech settle on this unique moniker?

BioNTech and Pfizer wanted to highlight special meaning

The naming process started early on in the vaccine's development.

Brand Institute, the naming agency behind the effort, started working with BioNTech in April 2020, according to the website FiercePharma. Pfizer would later join the branding team.

Scott Piergrossi, Brand Institute's president of operations and communications, told FiercePharma that the goal in naming drugs is "to overlap ideas and layer meaning into a name."

A nurse holds a vial containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination site.
Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A nurse holds a vial containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination site.

According to Pfizer, the pharmaceutical companies wanted to emphasize COVID-19 immunization and the vaccine's core mRNA technology. They also wanted to encompass "community" and "immunity" into the final product.

Comirnaty touches all of the bases.

The name "represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity, to highlight the first authorization 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," Pfizer and BioNTech said.

What were some other names being considered?

Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna, RNXtract were all in the running.

FiercePharma said BioNTech even filed these names with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this summer.

The internet keeps Comirnaty humble

Sure, Comirnaty is a lifesaving vaccine that will help end a pandemic.

But the internet doesn't care. Critics turned to Twitter to make light of the brand name shortly after it was announced.

Ben Wakana, a member of the White House's COVID-19 Response Team, joked: "The correct pronunciation of Comirnaty is: "keepz-u-out-of-the-hospital-saves-UR-life-protects-your-community."

It could be worse.

Alexander Gaffney, executive director of Politico's AgencyIQ, noted it's not that bad. He tweeted that there have been some other cumbersome drug names that have come out just this year: Bylvay, Truseltiq, Zynlonta, Qelbree. Take your pick.

Gaffney joked that those names "look like some drug executive was trying to make a name using the letters from a bad hand of Scrabble."

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, pictured in January, told NPR on Monday that he expects that full FDA approval will motivate more people to get vaccinated.
Alex Brandon / AP
White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, pictured in January, told NPR on Monday that he expects that full FDA approval will motivate more people to get vaccinated.

What's Moderna's vaccine going to be called?

Spikevax, according to the European Medicines Agency.

Moderna still awaits full FDA approval for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.