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US pays millions to Moderna to develop bird flu vaccine

The US government has given $176 million to Moderna to develop an mRNA-based pandemic influenza vaccine that would work against bird flu.

It says it wants to be “better prepared” for future public health crises, having learned lessons from Covid.

Bird flu is not a big threat to people, despite outbreaks in poultry and cattle.

But experts want a working vaccine that could be quickly rolled out, just in case the virus mutates and becomes a problem.

Making a vaccine using mRNA technology – which the company’s Covid jab is also based on – is faster than previous ways of doing it.

The US government says that adding this technology to its pandemic flu toolkit enhances its ability to be “nimble and quick” against the virus.

The funds from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will be used to complete late-stage development and testing of Moderna’s vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza.

This strain has been around for years in birds, but some other animals including cattle, have become infected in recent outbreaks.

Some believe the virus might one day change and start spreading easily among humans, with potentially serious consequences.

So far, there is no sign that this will happen.

There have been some rare cases of people catching it after coming into contact with sick animals.

In people, the virus can cause symptoms that range from mild illness, such as upper respiratory and eye infections, to severe disease such as pneumonia that can be fatal, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

Moderna began early tests of its mRNA bird flu vaccine in 2023 with healthy adult volunteers.

Results are expected later this year and will inform the next steps, Moderna says.

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