The wave of the vaccine future may be a one-two punch aimed to KO both COVID-19 and the flu with one shot.
Moderna CEO, Stéphane Bancel, appeared on NBC’s Squawk Box Wednesday morning to discuss a much anticipated move by the pharmaceutical company that would make boosting both vaccines simpler and more effective.
“COVID-19 is not going away. It’s not leaving the planet,” Bancel said, adding that with the variants mutating, getting a booster shot custom designed to neutralize whatever form of the coronavirus is dominant would be the logical path to take.
Bancel said that with more vaccination and more people getting infected, the pace of COVID-19 will naturally slow down, much like influenza. He said Moderna’s goal is to develop a vaccine annually tailored to tackle both the COVID-19 and flu pathogens in one dose so that people can go to their pharmacies or primary care providers and be vaccinated in one visit.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Bancel predicts that the combination vaccine could be ready in a couple of years, pending upon the formal approval of their COVID-19 vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and then the standard authorization for the dual drug. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines on the U.S. market have emergency use authorization, or EUA.
Both influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses. Bancel said that the mRNA technology used in Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine can be easily tweaked to accommodate multiple viral strains.
“Today the vaccines we have for seasonal flu are OK in a great year, and they are pretty bad in a bad year, in terms of efficacy,” Bancel said, according to the WSJ. “It’s not impossible that in a couple of years we should have the product I just talked about — a high efficacy seasonal flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine — for you at your pharmacy on an annual basis.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, flu shots were only 39% effective during the 2019 to 2020 season. About 38 million Americans were infected by influenza during that period and 22,000 people died, according to the WSJ and CDC.
While incidence of the flu plummeted 98% this year largely because of lockdown and COVID-19 precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing, millions of people contract the flu each year.
More adults got the flu shot from pharmacies in 2020 compared to the last year, says Healthline, and, nearly 200 million doses of the flu vaccine were distributed across the country this season, according to a the flu vaccination dashboard provided by the CDC.
But although flu activity is currently low, experts warn we could see an uptick in cases in 2021.
“Even though it’s smoldering out there, it could take off at any time,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, according to Healthline.
Moderna is also working on a multivalent COVID-19 vaccine that could target multiple strains of the virus, says the WSJ. Bancel said he expects more troublesome variants of the virus to evolve over the next six months as countries in the Southern Hemisphere enter their winter season.
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