By now, over 7 billion doses of the various COVID-19 vaccines have been given worldwide, and it’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are safe, effective and have a dramatic effect on COVID case rates, transmission, disease and mortality. They are arguably one of the greatest scientific success stories of our modern age, and proof that humanity can do unthinkable good deeds given nothing but an incredible amount of money and co-ordinated effort from governments and industry, something that naturally both governments and industry seem to have forgotten almost instantly.
The success of science however has been matched by a corresponding pathetic failure in marketing. I’m not talking about anti-vaxxers being unwilling to get the vaccine, because if you’re not willing to trust the jabs after seven billion of them have been given safely thennot only are you never going to get the vaccine at all, but you’re also a moron and no ad campaign is going to fix whatever deep horror lurks in your mind. I’m talking about names.
At the start, there were simple names based on who had produced the vaccine. “AstraZeneca”. “Pfizer”. “Moderna”. Simple, if rather illuminating that the pharmaceutical industry delights in coming up with incredibly silly made-up words for itself that don’t make any sense at all, which — spoiler alert — appears to be a bit of an in-built trait of theirs. But then, “the AstraZeneca vaccine” and “the Pfizer vaccine” were considered potentially too not made-up and too sensible, so they got rebranded, and we’re just all supposed to deal with this new reality and take these new names into our hearts despite most of them being utter dog shit. “COVID-19” is already a terrible, boring, design-by-committee name for a pandemic illness that’s ruined everyone’s lives now for twenty-three months and counting, but somehow the vaccine names are even worse.
Here, then, is my personal ranking of the “official” names of the authorised COVID vaccines available today. If you disagree with this, please feel free to @ me on Twitter and I will gladly ignore you because I am right. Points (which exist solely in my head) are awarded for inventiveness, coolness, comprehensibility, spell-ability and pronounceability. Points are docked for the inverse of all of those, and especially if I had to search online to find out what the name means, which is an instant failure.
Pfizer — “Comirnaty”
What it’s supposed to mean — it is a “mash-up of the words Covid-19, community, immunity and mRNA”. It was dreamed up by Brand Institute, who are presumably headed by a version of Martin Lambie-Nairn who crawled through a wormhole from a bad mirror universe.
What it sounds like — it sounds like a Cold War-era Eastern Bloc alliance. Not even one of the good or interesting ones like Comecon, one of the lower tier ones, that deals with something like weights and measures or something. What it does not sound like is the groundbreaking scientific achievement that it actually represents.
My comments and score — in a field of dog shit names for vaccines this one stands out. It has a non-obvious pronunciation, ridiculously convoluted spelling and is just plain stupid. You have to have it explained to you what it represents and the fact I had to search online to find it rather than being able to figure it out myself dooms it to forever be the bottom of this list. Inventive in the worst, dumbest way imaginable — a name like something you’ve made up to try and sneak past someone else in Scrabble so you can snag a 50 point bonus. Absolute crap. F (see me)
IMBCAMS/Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences — “Covidful”
What it’s supposed to mean — it’s spelt using the Chinese characters 科维福. That, phonetically, approximates to “Covidful”. In short, it means absolutely nothing.
What it sounds like — an unpleasantly whimsical way of describing yourself as having COVID, e.g. “I’m coughing my lungs up because I’m very Covidful today”.
My comments and score — possibly there is some angle I am missing here because I can’t read Chinese. Maybe in the original Mandarin it means “eliminating COVID from the face of the earth with giant lasers” or something similarly metal. However, I have to work with what I have, and what I have is this — emphatically, at no point do I wish to be in any state that could be described as “Covidful” or have any substance described as “Covidful” put into my body. E-
AstraZeneca — “Vaxzevria”
What it’s supposed to mean — absolutely nothing. Seriously, I looked online and I can’t find a single citation from any source as to what “Vaxzevria” is supposed to signify. Other than “Vax”, obviously.
What it sounds like — see what I said above about slapping down a made up word using your entire rack of letters in Scrabble and hoping that it gets past your opponent and you can collect a vast point bonus? This is that but worse. If Scrabble allowed you to put down proper nouns, this one and its array of Vs, Xs and Zs would clean up handily.
My comments and score — What was wrong with “Oxford-AstraZeneca”? More to the point, what the fuck was wrong with “CoviShield”? That one’s mentioned below, and gets a far better grade, but why not just use it worldwide since it’s much better on every count? Pronounceable, sure, but barely; spellable, sure, but barely; descriptive? Absolutely not. It’s not as bad as the sheer branding horror of Comirnaty but it’s still shockingly poor. E
Johnson and Johnson/Janssen — “Janssen COVID-19 vaccine”
What it’s supposed to mean — a COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Janssen.
What it sounds like — a COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Janssen.
My comments and score — A+ for clarity, F for inventiveness. You couldn’t come up with something a bit more poetic than “our COVID vaccine”? It’s the lack of effort I can’t stand. Try harder. D–
What it’s supposed to mean — this one, developed by CanSino Biologics, has basically no information on its etymology as far as I can tell. We’re on our own for this.
What it sounds like — Remember when Royal Mail rebranded itself to “Consignia” in the early 2000s for no readily identifiable reason other than that having a made-up name ending in “ia” was the fashion at the time? This is what it would be like if the same consultancy of dimwits named a vaccine.
My comments and score — Well, it’s better than Vaxzevria! Its sheer meaninglessness, even relative to Comirnaty, leaves points on the table, but it also gains a few through being relatively obvious. It could be anything though — it could be an alopecia treatment. Or a car. Or an accounting firm. Deeply, stultifyingly generic. C
What it’s supposed to mean — its name is derived from that of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian nuclear scientist who happened to be working on a vaccine and was then assassinated by (someone presumed by Iran and US intelligence to be) Israel.
What it sounds like — nothing. To me anyway, but then I am not the intended audience so my opinion ultimately counts for nothing, inasmuch as any of my opinions count for anything.
My comments and score — gets a couple of points for the national pride/honouring the dead element, which is at least inventive and a bit poetic; loses some for the weird forced capitalisation. B-
Sinovac — “CoronaVac”; “CoviVac”; “Covaxin”; “EpiVacCorona”
What it’s supposed to mean — it’s a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes Covid. Do I really need to explain this?
What it sounds like — precisely what it is in the most boring and perfunctory way imaginable.
My comments and score — I’ve lumped these together, despite being separate vaccines, because these avoid the Comirnaty/Vaxzevria trap of being needlessly, idiotically inscrutable, but have to be docked points for being bluntly obvious and unimaginative. The vanilla ice cream of vaccine names. B
Cadila — “ZyCoV-D”
What it’s supposed to mean — as far as I can tell, it is meant to gently hint at its purpose, but no more than that. But this is another one where the etymology isn’t discussed online, largely because nobody really cares, including both me and you, the reader.
What it sounds like — an otherworldly ore in an obscure Japanese RPG that you have to find a thousand of in order to prevent the world exploding or something.
My comments and score — the faintly sci-fi yet still vaccine-suggestive name wins it some cool points over its more idiotic competitors, and it’s eminently pronounceable, but it’s somehow a bit bland and lacking in zest. B+
AstraZeneca — “CoviShield”
What it’s supposed to mean — a shield against Covid.
What it sounds like — tiny knights, shielding your lungs from invading covids. Like the little firemen in the Gaviscon adverts that like to spray a concerning looking white goo all over your gullet.
My comments and score — very cheekily, AstraZeneca has two names for the same vaccine, with “CoviShield” being the vaccine’s name in India. And I don’t know why they didn’t use it everywhere because it’s better than “Vaxzevria”. By far. Still only gets a B+ though because it’s, as the scientists would say, “unimaginative as balls”. B+
What it’s supposed to mean — A fantastic feat of Russian engineering akin to the Sputnik spacecraft. The “V” does not stand for “five” in Roman numerals; it stands for “victory” over Covid-19.
What it sounds like — A fantastic feat of Russian engineering akin to the Sputnik spacecraft. The fifth one, to be precise! And not one of the ones where they suffocated a dog to death either!
My comments and score — Look, Russian nationalism is bad and Vladmir Putin is an awful prick. I get that. And the spiking-the-football “VICTORY!” name was dreamed up well before the vaccine itself was actually given to anyone or had even been proven to work. But on aesthetics alone? Damn. You’re not just getting a vaccine, you’re getting THE NATIONAL PRIDE OF MOTHER RUSSIA INJECTED RIGHT INTO YOU. Tiny Yuri Gagarins, forced into your arm muscles, to kick the seven shades of fuck out of coronavirus. How could you not like this? The symbolism alone wins it high marks. A
Moderna — “Spikevax”
What it’s supposed to mean — it’s a vaccine that emulates the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
What it sounds like — exactly what it is.
My comments and score —This is is the polar opposite of CoMiRnAtY; the Ronseal of vaccine names. What does it do? It’s a vaccine. What does it do? Emulate a spike protein. How is it delivered? A fucking spike. It’s descriptive, it’s easily pronounceable, it’s easily spelt and it sounds cool. Top tier. A+
There. That’s my rankings, which took me far too long. If you would like my suggestions for better brand names for our unequivocal losers, may I suggest “CoronaNuke”, “the Immaculate Injection” and “SARSfucker 9000”, all of which are vastly superior to and somehow less stupid than “Comirnaty”.
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