After Picking "Pandemic" Last Year, Merriam-Webster's 2021 Word of the Year Is "Vaccine"

·1 min read
Los Angeles, CA - April 15:  Liesl Eibschutz, a medical student from Dartmouth University, loads a syringe with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine before giving it to people on the first day that people ages 16 and up can receive the vaccine at Kedren Health on Thursday, April 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Award-winning television producer, Marti Noxon, whos a big fan of Kedren Vaccines, sent an In-N-Out truck to feed 200+ volunteers who help make this vaccine program such a huge success and she did so on the day that vaccines are being made available to all people 16+ in Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Los Angeles, CA - April 15: Liesl Eibschutz, a medical student from Dartmouth University, loads a syringe with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine before giving it to people on the first day that people ages 16 and up can receive the vaccine at Kedren Health on Thursday, April 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Award-winning television producer, Marti Noxon, whos a big fan of Kedren Vaccines, sent an In-N-Out truck to feed 200+ volunteers who help make this vaccine program such a huge success and she did so on the day that vaccines are being made available to all people 16+ in Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Merriam-Webster's word of the year doesn't often come as a surprise, and that feels especially true this year: on Nov. 29, the dictionary deemed "vaccine" its 2021 word of the year. Described as an injection to "stimulate the body's immune response against a specific infectious agent or disease," among other definitions, interest in the word grew exponentially as researchers worked to deliver a viable COVID-19 vaccine to the public. In fact, Merriam-Webster found "vaccine" lookups grew 601 percent year over year.

Though many were relieved when the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use late last year, followed soon after by the Moderna vaccine, others were hesitant to get vaccinated due to disinformation, distrust in government, and a variety of other reasons. "The promising medical solution to the pandemic that upended our lives in 2020 also became a political argument and source of division," Merriam-Webster wrote. "The biggest science story of our time quickly became the biggest debate in our country."

Related: I Had a Breakthrough COVID Infection, and It Made Me Even More Grateful For the Vaccine

In addition to "vaccine," other prominent words shared by Merriam-Webster included "insurrection," of course tied to the attack at the US Capitol on Jan. 6; "perseverance," a nod to NASA's Mars rover, which touched down on the planet on Feb. 18; and "murraya," the word that clinched Zaila Avant-garde's win at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

This marks the second year Merriam-Webster has chosen a word with coronavirus ties: its 2020 word of the year was simply "pandemic."