Moderna to develop mRNA-based avian flu vaccine for humans

The company plans to use COVID vaccine technology to develop a potential treatment for future pandemics.

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Covid 19 Vaccination Scene
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Moderna hopes to leverage the same technology behind COVID-19 vaccines to create a vaccine that targets avian influenza in people.

The COVID-19 vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) encapsulated into a lipid nanoparticle. The mRNA is genetically engineered to provide instructions on how to make a fake copy of the spike protein, a spikelike structure used by the COVID-19 virus to infect cells. 

The immune system learns to recognize these foreign proteins, creating antibodies that can protect the body against future possible infections from COVID-19.

One advantage of mRNA-based vaccines is that they are highly adaptable as virus strains evolve – or even, in this case, to different infectious diseases.

The company has already begun safety tests of the avian influenza vaccine candidates in a trial of healthy adults 18 years of age and older. If successful, the candidate still needs to undergo Phase III testing, which would be conducted at multiple centers across several thousand patients.

HHS provides financial support for vaccine development

Moderna recently received $176 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) towards the development of the treatment, according to a HHS press release.

“We have successfully taken lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and used them to better prepare for future public health crises. As part of that, we continue to develop new vaccines and other tools to help address influenza and bolster our pandemic response capabilities,” said HHS secretary Xavier Becerra.

“Importantly, we are doing this work in partnership with some of the nation’s leading scientists and clinicians. The Biden-Harris Administration won’t stop until we have everything we need to prepare for pandemics and other public health emergencies that impact the American public.”

Hopefully there won’t be a need

I truly believe that the risks of large-scale spillover of avian influenza from animal populations to human populations is low. Regardless, I am still thankful that the mRNA technology that played such a big role in slowing the COVID-19 global pandemic is there and available should it be needed.

To learn more about HPAI cases in commercial poultry flocks in the United States, Mexico and Canada, see an interactive map on    

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation


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