USA – The United States government has allocated US$176 million to Moderna to expedite the development of an avian influenza vaccine as the H5N1 virus continues to spread among dairy cows, leading to three infections among dairy workers since March. 

The funding, provided by the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, will support the completion of advanced development and testing phases for a pre-pandemic mRNA-based vaccine targeting H5N1.

Government officials revealed in a press briefing that late-stage trials for the vaccine are anticipated to commence in 2025, contingent upon the outcomes of Moderna’s ongoing phase 1 trial. 

These upcoming trials will prioritize evaluating the vaccine’s safety and the immune response it triggers.

The contract with Moderna also includes provisions to hasten the development timeline if necessary, depending on an increase in human cases, case severity, or human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Robert Johnson, who directs the medical countermeasures program at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), mentioned that it is premature to estimate the number of doses Moderna will be able to produce.

The H5N1 virus was first detected in dairy cattle in March, and it has since affected over 130 herds across 12 states. 

The scientific community is worried that the virus’s presence in poultry and dairy operations might increase the risk of it mutating and gaining the ability to spread more easily among humans, potentially triggering a pandemic.

Despite these concerns, Dawn O’Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the HHS, assured that the current risk to the general public remains low, and there is no recommendation for widespread vaccination. 

However, ongoing discussions within governmental bodies are considering the potential benefits of vaccinating farm workers, although no definitive decisions have been made yet, according to Nirav Shah, Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HHS is also in talks with Pfizer about developing another mRNA vaccine for H5N1.