Moderna has won approval from the European Medicines Association (EMA) for branding its COVID-19 vaccine with the name Spikevax. Now the vaccine maker is awaiting the same approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Moderna filed its application for the EMA approval in January of this year, which it was granted late last week. With the approval, Moderna’s Spikevax joins Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty and AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria with European brand-name approvals. No brand names have been approved in the US so far as the vaccines are still under emergency use authorization (EUA) and do not have full approval.
The brand names for all three vaccines were developed by the Brand Institute, a global leader in brand name and identity development. It partnered on over 75 percent of approved drug names in 2020. Pfizer’s Comirnaty was the first COVID-19 vaccine brand name created by the company. Its international nonproprietary name (INN) is tozinameran.
Among the other COVID-19 vaccine names, Spikevax is not only unique, but it’s also relatively simpler to say. The name contains two syllables, the first referencing the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, and the second a short-form of the word “vaccine.”
“At two syllables with a vax suffix, that’s considered a big win from a branding standpoint in the pharma and vaccine industry,” said Scott Piergrossi, Brand Institute president of operations and communications.
While Spikevax is a nod to spike and vaccines, Comirnaty is a combo of several concepts. It incorporates ideas of mRNA technology, community and immunity (the ‘ty’ comes from the latter two); Pfizer and BioNTech chose community as part of the image and association they wanted to project.
For Vaxzevria, AstraZeneca did not offer an analysis of the name, but the first syllable refers to the shorthand for vaccine.
“The uniqueness of each of the (EU-approved) names and the distinctiveness when compared to each other really shows how each project team is different,” Piergrossi said, adding that each name reflects “individual styles, preferences and personalities.”
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson’s shot is currently still called the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, which refers to the company’s drug development unit. However, Johnson & Johnson filed for trademark protection in October on potential candidate names that include Jcovden, Jcovav and Evcoyan, with additional filings of the names Jycovson, Jcovsen and Jycovden in March.
Comirnaty was penned in December 2020, around the time it began to receive authorizations and approvals. However, the groundwork was laid in April of that year, shortly after clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began.
For now, most people are accustomed to referring to the vaccines by the names of their pharma manufacturers. However, Brand Institute believes the brand names will eventually catch on. Case in point, despite some initial hesitation, the public and the media came to adopt the World Health Organization’s new Greek alphabet naming system for COVID variants.
Piergrossi does acknowledge that “it’s going to take some time for the vaccine brand names to establish traction, understanding and awareness in the market.”
As the famous line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet goes, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The same goes for the vaccines, as they continue to do their job of significantly reducing COVID-19 case numbers in places with high vaccine uptake, and battle COVID variants.