Health Canada authorizes new names for COVID-19 vaccines

Health Canada has authorized brand name changes for three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will now be named Comirnaty, the Moderna vaccine will be named SpikeVax, and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria, Health Canada said in a tweet Thursday.

“These are only name changes. There are no changes to the vaccines themselves,” the agency tweeted.

Pfizer and Moderna say that this change also marks the full approval of their vaccines for those 12 years old and up in Canada, which had been previously approved under an interim approval set to expire Thursday.

"Based on the longer-term follow-up data that we submitted, today's decision by Health Canada affirms the efficacy and safety profile of our vaccine at a time when it is urgently needed,” Fabien Paquette, vaccines lead at Pfizer Canada, said in a press release.

Health Canada told CTV News in an email that when Pfizer and Moderna submitted their vaccines to Health Canada to seek approval under the Food and Drug Regulations following their interim approval, those applications included brand name changes.

The agency added that last March, they amended the Food and Drug Regulations to “provide a mechanism for COVID-19 products to gain permanent legal status,” while maintaining some of the “agile regulatory measures” that came with the interim approval.

“The Department has reviewed all the required data on safety, efficacy, and manufacturing processes for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines,” the agency stated.

The new vaccine names are already being used for promotional purposes in the EU and the United States.

Vials of the vaccines will still contain the terms we are more used to for a period of time in order to minimize confusion.

“Although the vaccine's brand name will be COMIRNATY following this approval, Canada will continue to receive vials of the vaccine labeled as Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine,” Pfizer said in a news release Thursday.

“The formulation for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is the same formulation as COMIRNATY and they are considered interchangeable by Health Canada to provide the COVID-19 vaccination series. Given the current ongoing pandemic, a gradual transition to new labeling with the COMIRNATY brand name will occur at a later date.”

In a separate release, Moderna said it was pleased with Health Canada’s approval of its SpikeVax vaccine.

However, some are worried that these brand names will cause unnecessary confusion, and are saying it’s a little too late to rebrand now. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch shared on Twitter that he doesn’t care what the vaccines are called.

“I’m still going with Pfizer, Moderna & AZ,” he tweeted.

He told CTV News Channel that while he understands needing to have a brand name for the vaccines, some of these new names are difficult to pronounce and sound very different from the names become used to.

“I think we can use the colloquial names,” he said. “We’ve been calling this the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine — I think people will go with what they already know.

“It just seems to be [...] adding more confusion when no confusion needs to be added.”

He said that changing names after months of referring to something as a different name doesn’t make sense.

“The exception to that is when we saw them changing the name of the variants of concern,” he said, explaining that the official name change to Alpha, Delta, etc. actually helped people understand them because the name change took us from a string of letters and numbers (e.g. B.117) to something easier to remember.

“It made things a lot easier for everybody,” he said. “This does the opposite.”

He doesn’t think it will be a problem in the long run, though — likely because people won’t switch over to the new names.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would imagine we’re not going to hear much of this,” he said. “Maybe we’ll talk about it today and tomorrow, make fun of [the names] but I think people won’t be using those brand names in their day-to-day interactions when they’re talking about these vaccines.” 

With files from Sonja Puzic and The Canadian Press.

(2/4) The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will now be named Comirnaty, the Moderna vaccine will be named SpikeVax, and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria.

— Health Canada and PHAC (@GovCanHealth) September 16, 2021  

Health workers: People are dying from misinformation! ICUs are filling up with unvaccinated people! 7 million eligible Canadians still aren't fully vaccinated!

Health Canada: Why don't we authorize renaming the COVID vaccines to Comirnaty, SpikeVax & Vaxzevria?

Wait...what? ��

— Dr. Amit Arya (@AmitAryaMD) September 16, 2021  

Yeah, nobody cares.

I'm still going with Pfizer, Moderna, & AZ rather than [unpronounceable], the name of a D-division volleyball team, and Vaxixkckerkrzvia.

— Isaac Bogoch (@BogochIsaac) September 16, 2021