HHS Awards Moderna With Funding for Pandemic Influenza Vaccine


The $176 million award is for late-stage development of widespread immunization capability against H5 (avian) influenza, should such vaccines be needed.

avian flu under the microscope; Photo Credit: Cynthia Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ Courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith; Jacqueline Katz; Sherif R. Zaki

Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green).

Photo Credit: Cynthia Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ Courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith; Jacqueline Katz; Sherif R. Zaki

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), will provide approximately $176 million to Moderna for development of an mRNA-based pandemic H5 (avian) influenza vaccine.1 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.2

"mRNA vaccine technology offers advantages in efficacy, speed of development, and production scalability and reliability in addressing infectious disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, said. "We are pleased to continue our collaboration with BARDA to expedite our development efforts for mRNA-based pandemic influenza vaccines and support the global public health community in preparedness against potential outbreaks."2

The award was made through BARDA’s new Rapid Response Partnership Vehicle (RRPV) Consortium, managed by Advanced Technology International (ATI). The RRPV is a 10-year, multi-purpose acquisition vehicle and consortium partnership designed to support advanced research and development of medical countermeasures, such as vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. The consortium creates flexible, strategic partnerships with industry that foster innovation and promote collaboration.1

Avian Influenza Cases

On Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed a case in its state of avian influenza and this marks the fourth case overall in the United States. 3

Thus far all cases have been zoonotic and no transmission from human to human has been reported. In 3 of the 4 confirmed cases in the US, the patients have had conjunctivitis as the main presenting symptom. All patients have recovered and all were working with cows in traditional farm settings.3

Concerns About Vaccine Availability

Right now some H5N1 vaccines are being stockpiled by the US government in case of a human outbreak, but nothing has been reported in terms of how many are available. Obviously, with the federal government looking to secure more vaccines, there does not appear to be enough if a widespread outbreak does occur. This new award to Moderna looks to address that.

“We have successfully taken lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and used them to better prepare for future public health crises. As part of that, we continue to develop new vaccines and other tools to help address influenza and bolster our pandemic response capabilities,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

In terms of who should get vaccinated if transmission does become human-to human, medical providers may be the first in line for such immunizations.

“The absolute use of those would be detailed in pandemic plans, but you can imagine if this virus started to go human-to-human, I think the first line responders and healthcare workers might be first in line to receive this,” Richard Webby, PhD, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds and Department of Host-Microbe Interactions, Division of Virology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital said in a previous interview with Contagion. “I mean, if this virus continues to circulate in cows, maybe you can make an argument for people in close contact with those infected herds as well. But I think that's a little less likely. The risk is still very low.”

1.HHS provides $176 million to develop pandemic influenza mRNA-based vaccine. HHS press release. July 4, 2024. Accessed July 5, 2024. 2025.https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2024/07/02/hhs-provides-176-million-develop-pandemic-influenza-mrna-based-vaccine.html

2.Moderna Receives Project Award through BARDA's Rapid Response Partnership Vehicle Consortium to Accelerate Development of mRNA-based Pandemic Influenza VaccineModerna press release. July 2, 2024. Accessed July 5, 2024.

3.Parkinson J. Fourth Case of Avian Influenza Confirmed in US. Contagion. July 4, 2024. Accessed July 5, 2024.

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