2 Min Read
The Real Names of the COVID-19 Vaccines (and Why You Don’t Know Them)
Did you get your Comirnaty booster shot yet?
That’s the official name of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna’s is called Spikevax.
Few things have been as talked about as these vaccines over the last year, yet their official names are relatively unknown in the general public.
The companies are no doubt happy for the exposure, but the naming convention flips traditional medical branding practices on their head. More often, it’s the products themselves that become household names – think Tylenol, ChapStick or Viagra.
We call it a Kleenex, not a Kimberly-Clark facial tissue.
The vaccines’ official names don’t exactly roll off the tongue, which is a big part of why they’re so difficult to market.
The reason why has to do with complex regulations around prescription medications.
A Pronounced Challenge
It turns out those hard-to-pronounce drug names are kind of required by law.
The Food and Drug Administration uses a process called Phonetic and Orthographic Computer Analysis to ensure all new drug names are at least 70% different than what’s currently out there.
That means drug names not only have to sound different, they have to look different as a written word, too. The FDA even conducts handwriting tests to make sure. That’s not all –
“So a new brand name can’t be too similar to an existing one. It can neither mention the drug’s chemical components nor violate any trademark. And it must steer clear of unintended meanings in other languages,” writes the Wall Street Journal.
The rules are there for good reason. The FDA wants to make absolutely sure no patient (or doctor) mistakes one medication for another because of similarities in the name.
Still, it adds up to a lot of restrictions – and a herculean task for branding teams. It’s little wonder the naming process for a new drug typically takes about two years.