Goodbye Pfizer, hello Comirnaty: top COVID-19 vaccines renamed in Canada

OTTAWA — It's pronounced koh-MIHR'-nuh-tee. Never heard of it? Well, get used to it. It's what Canada will be calling the Pfizer vaccine from now on, at least officially.

Health Canada has approved new monikers for Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines and announced the change on social media today.

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The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has now been dubbed Comirnaty, which the company says represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity.

The Moderna vaccine will go by SpikeVax and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria.

Pfizer and Moderna say the change marks the full approval of the vaccines by Health Canada, which were previously approved under an interim order that was set to expire today.

It's the first time SpikeVax, until now known as the Moderna vaccine, has been fully approved anywhere in the world, Stéphane Bancel, the company's CEO, said in a press release Thursday.

During the interim order, the vaccines didn't go by their brand names, but now that new and more long-term data has been submitted and approved they will go by their permanent name.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam painted a grim picture Thursday of what could lie ahead if more people don't embrace the vaccines.

"Unless we can quickly reduce overall transmission rates through accelerated vaccination and other measures where the virus is surging, continued expansion of the epidemic could lead to higher case counts than we have experienced thus far," Tam said at a news conference.

"We’re still close to seven million eligible people not yet fully vaccinated. Amid predominance of the highly contagious and more severe Delta variant, hospitalizations could exceed health care capacity in impacted areas."

The vaccines are even more important in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant, she warned.

Health Canada points out the vaccines themselves are not changing — only the names are.

The manufacturers hope full approval from the government agency will make people who still haven't received the shot more comfortable with the idea.

"Health Canada’s approval of Comirnaty for individuals ages 12 and older affirms the vaccine’s safety and efficacy shown in longer term data submitted to Health Canada — and hopefully that licensure may improve vaccine confidence among Canadians," Pfizer spokesperson Christina Antoniou wrote in a statement.

Although the name change has been approved, Canada will still receive vials labelled Pfizier-BioNTech for the next several months.

Health Canada's regulatory documents show that based on the data provided by the manufacturers the vaccines are effective and were well tolerated by participants in the studies.

The FDA approved new names in the United States earlier this summer, and the vaccines have been going by their brand names in the EU since the spring.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2021.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version supplied an incorrect pronunciation for Comirnaty.

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