Why the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine Is Called Comirnaty

The vaccine is pronounced koe-mir’-na-tee and represents a mash-up of words related to the coronavirus pandemic

A hand holding the vial of Pfizer/BionTech's covid-19 vaccine
Comirnaty was coined with Co- as the prefix, followed with -mirna as a nod to mRNA, and ends in the -ty suffix, representing both the words community and immunity. Teresa Nunes/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On August 23, Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine was granted official approval for use in individuals 16 years of age and older by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

With official FDA approval, the company was allowed to start marketing the vaccine with an official name, Comirnaty. Pronounced koe-mir'na-tee, the term was designed to represent a mash-up of the words Covid-19, community, immunity, and mRNA, the technology used in the vaccine, writes Insider's Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce, a health reporter and National Health Service medical doctor in the United Kingdom.

The vaccine's naming process began early in 2020 during the shot's development. Brand Institute, a naming agency specializing in developing brand names and identities, began working with BioNTech on the vaccine's name in April 2020 before Pfizer joined the branding team, later on, reports Jaclyn Diaz for NPR. Currently, Brand Institute is the global leader in healthcare naming and has named common drugs found in grocery stores, including Johnson & Johnson's pain and inflammation medication, Tylenol Rapid Release and Pfizer's Advil Dual Action.

Brand Institute's president of operations and communications Scott Piergrossi tells Fierce Pharma's Beth Snyder Bulik that the company's goal when naming drugs is to layer various meanings into every name. Comirnaty was coined with Co- as the prefix, followed with -mirna as a nod to mRNA, and ends in the -ty suffix, representing both the words community and immunity. The terms community and immunity also allude across the entire name, reports Fierce Pharma.

FDA approval for a prescription drug name is a lengthy process, and its requirements span in detail across a 42-page document, Insider reports. Names for drugs must be memorable but not easily confused with other brands. Words are allowed to refer to the drug's technology but not to any of the active ingredients in them, per Insider. Other names considered for Pfizer and BioNTech's covid-19 vaccine include Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna, and RNXtract, which were filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, NPR reports.

Many took to the social media platform Twitter to express their thoughts about the vaccine's name. A few commenters said that pronouncing Comirnaty feels like a mouthful of sticky peanut butter, reports Slate's Lisa Davidson, a phonetician who expresses the same concern in the article.

Politico's AgencyIQ executive director Alexander Gaffney tweeted to joke that the name comirnaty isn't too bad, considering other drug names look like someone was trying to make a name from a bad hand of Scrabble.

Per NPR, Moderna is still awaiting complete FDA approval for their Covid-19 vaccine, but according to the European Medicines Agency, the vaccine may be called SpikeVax. The Brand Institute lists Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine name as SpikeVax as well.

"Ultimately, the formula for success in naming is a strong, distinctive name with a meaning that over time will hopefully [come to] stand for or symbolize the hope and innovation that the underlying product itself is for," Piergrossi tells Fierce Pharma.