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Bird Flu Vaccine in Development



With avian influenza spreading beyond birds, so are the efforts to protect Americans against it. Moderna -- a pharmaceutical and biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- has a new federal contract to develop a vaccine to better safeguard people from the virus that previously decimated the poultry industry before impacting dairy herds.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Moderna in a $176 million agreement announced on July.


RELATED: NBC News reported that the federal government already has 4.8 million doses of bird flu vaccine stockpiled. Learn more about that and the new agreement with Moderna here. 


In May the Associated Press reported that University of Pennsylvania researchers had developed a vaccine. The USDA planned to test the vaccine on calves with the premise that vaccinating cows could limit chances for the virus to spread to humans.


Human to human spread is one of the greatest concerns by health officials.


RELATED: CBS did this report in May about the University of Pennsylvania researchers’ project to develop a bird flu vaccine. Watch that report. 


Moderna and Pfizer were both working on bird flu vaccines, according to A.P. This report includes background on the differences in the types of vaccines. 


A company statement from Moderna on July 2 about the new federal award said, “The project award will support late-stage development for an mRNA-based vaccine to enable the licensure of a pre-pandemic vaccine against H5 influenza virus. This subtype of influenza virus causes a highly infectious, severe disease in birds called avian influenza and poses a risk for spillover into the human population. The agreement also includes additional options to prepare and accelerate a response to future public health threats.”


Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel also acknowledged a partnership where it receives funding through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response.


Message posted on X by Moderna.


Bird flu’s spread has had far-reaching implications on various sectors of agriculture. Initially, much of the devastation was confined to the poultry industry with tens of millions of birds being culled to limit the spread.


Since March, 12 states have reported dairy cattle infections that affected nearly 140 herds, according to the USDA. Michigan, Idaho, and Colorado had the most reported herd infections as of July 4. See the latest map of confirmed bird flu infections in dairy cattle here.


Meanwhile, the USDA began taking applications on July 1 from dairy producers to help offset the financial losses of milk due to infected cows. Find out the details here.  


Financial losses can add up quickly for those in the dairy industry. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners estimated that H5N1’s cost can be $100-200 per cow.


“If you have, say, a 1,000-cow dairy, in two to three weeks, you can expect to lose $100,000 to $200,000, not including the long-term impact from the disease, decreased herd size, or other potential effects,” said Dr. Fred Gingrich, AABP executive director, in a statement posted on the American Veterinary Association’s website.


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