Merriam-Webster announced that "vaccine" is the 2021 word of the year. Searches for the term spiked 1048% since 2019, amid the global coronavirus pandemic that has changed the way we live over the past two years. The publisher explained the vaccines have been at "the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more."
"This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021,"Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large, told the Associated Press. "It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there's also the debates regarding policy, politics, and political affiliation. It's one word that carries these two huge stories."
The dictionary publisher said that the new mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna forced them to update the definition of vaccine back in May.
The definition, which formerly read "a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease," was replaced with the following:
1 : a preparation that is administered (as by injection) to stimulate the body's immune response against a specific infectious agent or disease: such as
a : an antigenic preparation of a typically inactivated or attenuated (see ATTENUATED sense 2) pathogenic agent (such as a bacterium or virus) or one of its components or products (such as a protein or toxin)
b : a preparation of genetic material (such as a strand of synthesized messenger RNA) that is used by the cells of the body to produce an antigenic substance (such as a fragment of virus spike protein)
Other words considered for word of the year included "insurrection," "cicada," "woke," and "infrastructure."