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July 02, 2024

U.S. government awards Moderna $176 million to make bird flu vaccine

An avian influenza virus has been spreading among dairy cows this spring and infected 3 people. The CDC says the public's risk for infection remains low.

Prevention Vaccines
Bird Flu Vaccine Pavlo Goncher/SOPA Images via Sipa USA

Moderna has been awarded $176 million by the U.S. government to develop a bird flu vaccine that can help prevent a pandemic. Avian influenza cases have spread rapidly this spring among dairy cows and also infected three people, officials say.

The U.S. government has agreed to pay the pharmaceutical company Moderna $176 million to develop a vaccine that could guard against a bird flu pandemic. 

The news comes as avian influenza cases in dairy herds continue to rise. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 132 dairy herds in 12 states have been hit by the virus. Three people contracted bird flu after coming into contact with sick cows earlier this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the risk to the general public remains low.

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Still, scientists have long feared the potential havoc a new influenza strain could cause among humans. The H1N1 strain that caused the 2009 flu pandemic originated among animals, according to the World Health Organization. It killed 12,469 people in the U.S. over the course of a year, the CDC says. 

Moderna received the funding to continue developing a bird flu vaccine that it already has in early-stage testing, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday. Results of early trials are expected this year and will determine the next phase of the vaccine production. The funds will enable Moderna to ramp up manufacturing if the threat of a bird flu pandemic arises, HHS said.

The pandemic flu vaccine that Moderna is developing employs similar mRNA technology, which was used to quickly produce vaccines against COVID-19.

"mRNA vaccine technology offers advantages in efficacy, speed of development, and production scalability and reliability in addressing infectious disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.

Vaccines using mRNA prompt the body to produce proteins, or sections of proteins, that jumpstart an immune response. Avian influenza in humans can cause symptoms ranging from eye infections to upper-respiratory illness to pneumonia.

The CDC, USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are working with local health authorities to continue to investigate and monitor the spread of avian influenza. 

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