Moderna locks up Spikevax name in Europe, joins Pfizer's Comirnaty in wait for official brand approval in U.S.

vaccines
What's in a name? When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, it's a stockpile of new brands for drugmakers. (Moonhonor/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Spikevax it is. Moderna has earned European Medicine Association approval for the brand name of its COVID-19 vaccine, even as it awaits an FDA decision.

With last week's official nod in the EU, Moderna's Spikevax joins Pfizer and BioNTech’s Comirnaty and AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria with European brand-name approvals. None of the names is approved in the U.S., though, because the vaccines are still under emergency use authorization rather than bearing full FDA approval.

Still, it's likely the companies are fielding the same brand names in their vaccine applications filed or soon-to-be-filed with the FDA.

Spikevax is unique not only among the already approved vaccine names, but also among typically long and tongue-tying drug names in general. Its simple two-syllable name is a combination referring to the spike protein of the coronavirus and the shorthand word for vaccine.

RELATED: The inside story behind Pfizer and BioNTech's new vaccine brand name, Comirnaty

“At two syllables with a vax suffix, that’s considered a big win from a branding standpoint in the pharma and vaccine industry,” Scott Piergrossi, Brand Institute president of operations and communications, said.

Brand Institute developed the Spikevax moniker, as well as the Comirnaty and Vaxzevria brand names.

The fourth vaccine—from Johnson & Johnson, approved for emergency use in the U.S. and Europe—is still simply called the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, referring to J&J's drug development unit.

J&J filed for trademark protection in October on names that could be potential candidates, including Jcovden, Jcovav and Evcoyan. They were filed as names for vaccines, but without more specific details. More recently, J&J filed Jycovson, Jcovsen and Jycovden in March also as vaccine names.

“The uniqueness of each of the (EU-approved) names and the distinctiveness when compared to each other really shows how each project team is different,” Piergrossi said, adding that each name reflects “individual styles, preferences and personalities.”

Spikevax is the most straightforward, while Comirnaty combines several concepts. Two high-priority ideas the team wanted were COVID immunization and mRNA technology. Pfizer and BioNTech decided on community as an image and association they wanted to elicit.

The name Comirnaty then breaks down to the Co- prefix, followed by the mRNA in the middle, and ending with the -ty suffix, which nods to both community and immunity.

In the case of Vaxzevria, AstraZeneca did not offer an analysis of the name, but the first syllable refers again to the shorthand for vaccine.

RELATED: Amid rollout imbroglio, AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine has at least one fresh start: A new brand name

Many consumers, of course, still refer to the vaccines by their pharma company maker. But the Brand Institute believes the brand names will eventually catch on. Just look at how quickly the media and consumers have picked up on the World Health Organization's new Greek alphabet naming system for COVID variants.

Piergrossi acknowledged that “it’s going to take some time for the vaccine brand names to establish traction, understanding and awareness in the market.”

With booster shots looking imminent, though, repetition of the brands over months and even years would help spur adoption.