SpikeVax. Comirnaty. Vaxzevria.
No, these are not obscure British heavy metal bands, nor are they newly discovered planets. These are what COVID-19 vaccines are called now.
The vaccine formerly known as Moderna is now SpikeVax, which sounds like a joke name that stuck. Pfizer shall henceforth be Comirnaty, which sounds vaguely Tolkienian. And AstraZeneca is now Vaxzevria, which sounds like a country in a Hallmark movie.
Health Canada took to social media Thursday, alerting the public it had authorized the brand-name changes for those three vaccines, and people had many questions, most of them a variation of "Why are you doing this to us?" Between the fourth wave and the federal election, allow me to evoke Dr. Brent Roussin and say, on behalf of all of us, "Now is not the time."
Apparently, these names are only new to Canadians. Under the interim approval order that expired Thursday, the vaccines went by their company names — a.k.a. the names they will likely continue to be called. Nothing about the vaccines themselves is changing.
Sure, all pharmaceutical companies name their products. I understand. But I think most of us can agree that these new-to-us names are not good. Two of them I can’t even pronounce. You know that thing where you’re ordering off an Italian menu, planning to impress a date with the flawless pronunciation you’ve been practice-whispering to yourself — and then you panic when the server arrives and end up pointing to the item and saying "that one"? This feels like that.
For what’s it worth, Comirnaty, per Pfizer (the company that makes Comirnaty), is a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community and immunity — even though you already can’t spell community without immunity (you can have that slogan for a negotiable price, Pfizer, get at me). I couldn’t find the origin stories for my new favourite Marvel characters SpikeVax and Vaxzevria.
The switch to brand names actually represents the vaccines’ full approval by Health Canada — a point that should, ideally, inspire vaccine confidence. After all, one of the main points on the Vaccine Hesitancy Bingo Card, along with "it was rushed" and "I don’t know what’s in it," is "it’s not fully approved."
Unfortunately, the name change mostly just creates confusion — or worse, suspicion.
In the 18th month of a pandemic in which communication, clarity and institutional trust have been real issues, switching the names of these vaccines — which already have brand recognition, by the way — seems wholly unnecessary. Especially since I can almost promise you no one is going to call these vaccines by those names.
Let’s look at naming rights by way of example (shout out here to my favourite arena, the KFC Yum! Center, in Louisville, Ky.). Yes, many people call the Burton Cummings Theatre the Burton Cummings Theatre, but there are a great many people who also still call it the Walker Theatre. Ditto the Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays; many fans still call it the Skydome. You can even buy I Still Call It the Skydome T-shirts.
The brand names for the vaccines have already been rolled out in Europe and the United States, and the fact that Canadians weren’t familiar with them underlines that point.
So it’s likely your Team Moderna and Team Pfizer T-shirts need not be retired just yet. Though, think of the graphic design possibilities for SpikeVax.