Why did Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines get new names after approval? Experts explain

Months after emergency use approval, both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were given their full stamp by Health Canada — a stamp that came with new names for the vaccines, as well.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Canada’s health agency announced the new names, with Pfizer’s vaccine now being known as “Comirnaty,” Moderna’s jab as “Spikevax” and AstraZeneca’s shot would be called “Vaxzevria.”

“These are only name changes. There are no changes to the vaccines themselves,” Health Canada said.

While the full approval means that kids aged 12 and up are now able to receive their shots of Comirnaty or Spikevax, the renaming raised some concern over possible confusion people might have with the new “complicated” names — especially during a time when Canada is struggling to increase its vaccine uptake.

Read more: Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines get full Health Canada approval — and new names

Health and vaccine experts tell Global News that the renaming really is just a part of the normal regulatory process that the vaccines have to undergo and that their old names would most likely stick in the long run.

Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology and professor at Dalhousie University, explained that the renaming was not Health Canada’s choice, but rather a branding exercise decided by the vaccine makers themselves.

“So it’s the companies that did it, and the condition is that companies are not allowed to market the vaccine or a drug before it’s approved for use,” said Halperin.

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“Now what happened with COVID vaccines is unusual in that they did not receive full approval, they were released for emergency use authorization.”

Halperin pointed to the lack of marketing around COVID-19 vaccines in Canada the last year-and-a-half due to the approval process and that vaccine makers weren’t allowed to name their drugs in Canada without full approval.

“So it’s not that they renamed them. It’s just now their name is allowed to be used publicly,” he said.

Read more: Moderna COVID-19 vaccine gets Health Canada approval for kids 12+

Health Canada’s full approval stamp comes just weeks after the United States Food and Drug Administration fully passed the Pfizer jab on Aug. 23.

“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,” announced Fabien Paquette, the vaccines lead for Pfizer Canada, on Thursday.

“While a significant number of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated, there is still much work to be done as infection and hospitalization rates continue to rise across the country, primarily among unvaccinated populations.”

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On whether there was concern that the new brand names would change the public’s perception of the shots and influence people’s decision on whether to get a dose, Halperin says his guess is that it won’t make much of a difference.

It’s an assumption also shared by infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who said that he’s still going to call them by their old names.

In an interview with Global News on Saturday, Bogoch said that he doesn’t think people are going to use those brand names.

“They’re hard to say, they’re new, they’re a bit confusing and I just think people are going to continue with what they already know,” he said.

“Since it’s been announced by Health Canada, has anyone used any of these names? I heard them once — and I talk about vaccines all the time.”

Read more: Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine given full approval by U.S. regulators

Bogoch said that the one change that made sense to him and was helpful was the World Health Organization (WHO) naming its variants of concern.

In May, the WHO announced it had assigned several key variants of the virus letters of the Greek alphabet, such as the B.1.1.7 variant being renamed to the Alpha variant and B.1.617.2 to Delta.

As for the new vaccine brand names, Bogoch was confident that it would do little to deter people from getting their vaccines or change the way they would be discussed.

“With the brand names for the vaccines, I could be wrong, but I don’t think that we’re going to be using this in our day-to-day conversations — both in the field of medicine and also in regular conversation outside of medicine.”

— With files from Rachel Gilmore

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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