Naming a vaccine

Category: Health


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. pharmaceutical / ˌfɑr məˈsu tɪ kəl / (n.) – a medicine or drug

    The company often donates pharmaceuticals to poor countries.

  2. ever since / ˈɛv ər sɪns / (idiom) – continually happening over a period of time or from a time in the past until now

    He started playing the piano when he was four years old, and he’s loved it ever since.

  3. smallpox / ˈsmɔlˌpɒks / (n.) – a serious infectious disease that causes fever and rashes or small spots on the skin

    Smallpox is very dangerous because it spreads so easily.

  4. tetanus / ˈtɛt n əs / (n.) – a disease caused by bacteria entering an open wound that can cause pain and stiffness in the muscles

    If you cut yourself on that old metal door, you should get a tetanus shot.

  5. immunity / ɪˈmyu nɪ ti / (n.) – the ability of the body to resist harmful diseases

    Scientists aren’t sure if getting the disease will provide immunity or not; it’s possible that people can get the disease more than once.


Read the text below.

Last year on Dec. 8, two elderly British people were the first to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccine they received was made by German biotech company BioNTech and U.S. pharmaceuticals company Pfizer.

The vaccine uses mRNA — messenger RNA — to protect against the COVID-19 disease.

Ever since, people have called it simply “the Pfizer shot.” But Pfizer makes vaccines to protect against many diseases, including smallpox, tetanus and polio. Each of its vaccines has a unique name. In the U.S., Pfizer calls its COVID-19 shot “Pfizer-BioNTech.”

But when Pfizer talked with the European Union about making and selling its vaccine in the EU, it gave the vaccine a new name: Comirnaty (koe-MIR-na-tee).

The name mixes four words together: COVID-19, mRNA, community and immunity. You have to look carefully to see the words — they’ve been chopped up — but they are there.

Comirnaty is made in Europe but is the same as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made in the United States.

Japan has bought tens of millions of Comirnaty shots from Europe. If you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine ticket in your mail, you may see “Comirnaty(コミナティ)” written somewhere in the papers in the envelope.

Sadly, the name doesn’t seem to be popular. Newspapers still call the vaccine “the Pfizer shot.” Perhaps it’s because “Comirnaty” feels hard to pronounce, even for native English speakers.

On the other hand, it could have been worse. Pfizer and BioNTech were thinking of calling the vaccine Covuity, RnaxCovi or Kovimerna — try getting your tongue around those!

Meanwhile, the EU has given Moderna the OK to call its COVID-19 vaccine “Spikevax.” Easy to say, easy to remember. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • In the US, Pfizer calls its COVID-19 shot “Pfizer-BioNTech,” but in the EU, it sells it under the name “Comirnaty.” Do you think a product should have the same name wherever it’s used, or is it okay to sell the same thing under different names? Why? Discuss.
  • Many people still refer to the various COVID-19 vaccines by their company name instead of by their actual names. Do you think more people will eventually use the real names, or will they forever be known as “the Pfizer shot” or “the Moderna vaccine”? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • The EU has given Moderna the OK to call its COVID-19 vaccine “Spikevax,” which the writer says is easy to say and remember. Which name do you think is better, “Comirnaty” or “Spikevax”? Why? Discuss.
  • The name “Comirnaty” mixes four words together: COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity. In your opinion, what should companies consider when choosing a name for a product (ex. if it’s easy to pronounce, if it sounds like an offensive word in another language)? Can you think of any products with silly/bad names? Discuss.