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A close reading of the new name for the Pfizer vaccine.

Jessie Gaynor

August 23, 2021, 2:20pm

In case you get all your breaking news from Lit Hub, I’m pleased to be the first to tell you that the FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which will henceforth be known as… Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee).

At the risk of being branded a contrarian, I like it! It’s “community,” but through gritted teeth, which is appropriate for a pharmaceutical company whose other recent work includes price gouging a life-saving epilepsy medication.

The “mir” refers, I think, to the mRNA that the vaccine contains, but I imagine it’s also a sonic nod to a faceless villain, shaking his fist and gnashing his teeth when a law to cap insulin prices passes a house somewhere. MIRRRR!

With apologies to Jonathan Lethem, I find Comirnaty to be a richer text than any of the drug names in his first novel, Gun with Occasional Music (Acceptol, Avoidol, Forgettol), and though Aldous Huxley’s soma in undeniably elegant, it’s much too simple for today’s pharma landscape, where Abilify and Vyleesi reign supreme.

But of course it’s unfair to compare this real drug name to fictional drug names, given that Pfizer had months and months to come up with this one, and presumably a whole focus group of characters from various first drafts of George Saunders stories. (Still, Verbaluce is pretty good, come on.)

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