Pfizer, BioNTech enlist Marvel's Avengers in latest COVID-19 vaccine booster push

Just like how the Avengers have repeatedly kept the world safe from Ultron, people need to protect themselves by updating their COVID-19 vaccination with the latest booster.

That’s the message Pfizer and BioNTech are trying to get across in a new custom comic book partnered with Marvel. The companies unveiled the project Tuesday.

“We are proud to work with Marvel, which is so firmly entrenched in global culture and entertainment, to help remind people of the actions they can each take to help protect themselves, similarly to how the Avengers protect their community,” Pfizer said in a statement shared with Fierce Pharma Marketing.

The new comic, titled "Everyday Heroes," represents Pfizer flexing its marketing muscle. COVID vaccines are slated to switch to the private commercial market after the U.S. government failed to secure additional funding from Congress. As Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., has said, Pfizer can be “even more competitive” and its commercial skills are “even better suited” in an open market than in a a government-contracting model.

The project also comes amid a reportedly slow start to the omicron booster rollout in both the U.S. and Europe.

As of Sept. 28, 7.6 million people in the U.S. have received an updated booster dose, nearly a month into the FDA’s green lights of omicron-targeted bivalent shots by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the EU, weekly vaccine doses administered were ranging from around 1 million to 1.4 million in September, Reuters reported, citing data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Enter the comic book, featuring some of Marvel’s most popular and powerful superheroes.

The story happens as Ultron—which is used to represent COVID—has come back again all evolved, just like how the coronavirus has developed into new variants. As the superheroes fight Ultron a few blocks away, a grandpa and his family are waiting to get their COVID shots at a clinic.

The old man describes to his grandkid how the Avengers relied on new technologies to fight Ultron the first time. As the villain keeps changing and coming back with new power, the Avengers “keep adapting and re-strategizing” to beat him, the grandpa says in a clear reference to how COVID vaccines are updated.

In this round of battle, Iron Man arrives with an “ionized energy cannon,” and Ultron flees the scene, a news anchor reports. The plot leaves the door open to potential follow-up chapters, but it’s unclear whether there will be future series to the comic or how long it will run.

It’s later revealed that the grandpa used to work at a company that helps clean up the messes after superhero fights. “That’s how I know that we can fight back against even tough, ever-evolving enemies, if you’re willing to adapt, fight back and take steps to help protect yourself,” the grandpa says.

In the next frame, the father adds, “and that’s exactly what we’re doing today,” with a Pfizer poster hanging on the wall in the background.

The story ends with what appears to be a ceremonial scene featuring the Avengers onstage and the family offstage all wearing bandages on their left arms, indicating they’ve received the vaccine.

Besides the superhero scenes, Pfizer and BioNTech added one page of “everyday heroes” both before and after the story to depict people of different professions.

“What makes them everyday heroes?” one of the pages reads. “They know what to do to help defend against COVID-19.”

“Vaccinate! Stay up to date with the latest recommended booster for you and be an everyday hero,” a banner states, accompanied by a scannable QR code containing COVID vaccination information from Pfizer.

This is not the first time a pharma company has partnered with Marvel in a marketing campaign. But instead of enlisting well-known superhero figures—which likely costs a fortune from an IP perspective—Takeda back in 2016 worked with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and Marvel to create a custom-made superhero called Samarium. The pharma-sponsored superhero can turn his skin into magnetic body armor, but he also suffers from inflammatory bowel disease. That comic was designed as a disease awareness campaign.