Vaccine makers bet on mRNA technology to improve future flu shots

Vaccine manufacturers are conducting studies using mRNA technology that enabled the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines in hopes of developing more effective flu vaccines in the future. The New York Times reported.

Every year there are between 3 and 5 million serious flu cases worldwide, with up to 650,000 deaths. Influenza vaccinations are generally good for a flu season, with an effectiveness between 40 and 60 percent, according to the Times’ October 9 report. Still, in the 2018/19 flu season, when the vaccine was only 29 percent effective, it prevented, according to a. an estimated 4.4 million cases in the US, as well as 58,000 hospital admissions and 3,500 deaths to learn quoted by the Times.

Five more pointers to note about mRNA technology and flu vaccines:

1. Conventional influenza vaccination takes a while to produce and usually protect against four expected strains. They are raised in hen’s eggs for months, and since this is a slower process, scientists need to choose which strains to include several months before the flu season, often creating a discrepancy when the actual strain arrives. In essence, “It’s an educated guessing game,” said Alicia Widge, MD, an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center Times. “We always catch up with the virus.”

2. In contrast, mRNA vaccines are manufactured relatively quickly, which may allow scientists to better tailor vaccinations to different strains of flu in each season. The researchers hope that eventually the technology can be changed to make flu vaccination effective for a wider range of strains of influenza, or to develop a universal flu vaccine that will provide protection for several years.

3. Several vaccine manufacturers, including Moderna and Pfizer, have recently begun trials of flu mRNA vaccines.

4. The technology could also enable vaccine manufacturers to create combination syringes more easily. In September, Moderna shared the results of an experiment showing that the combination of mRNAs for seasonal flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus produced high levels of antibodies to all three viruses in mice.

5. If studies currently underway show that flu mRNA vaccinations improve efficacy, it would likely be years before approval is obtained because studies for the vaccines do not have the government support that COVID-19 vaccines had. Federal regulators would also not consider them for emergency clearance, as the flu isn’t a new threat and vaccines already exist.