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The US will pay Moderna $176 million to develop an mRNA pandemic flu vaccine

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FILE - A flu vaccine is readied at the L.A. Care and Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plans' Community Resource Center, Oct. 28, 2022, in Lynwood, Calif. The Biden administration announced it will release doses of prescription flu medicine from the Strategic National Stockpile to states as flu-sickened patients continue to flock to hospitals and doctor's offices around the country.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

The U.S. government will pay the vaccine maker Moderna $176 million to accelerate development of a pandemic influenza vaccine that could be used to treat bird flu in people, as concern grows about cases in dairy cows across the country, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Moderna already has a bird flu vaccine in very early-stage testing that uses the same mRNA technology that allowed rapid development and rollout of vaccines to protect against COVID-19. The new funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services include continued development of the vaccine, including a late-stage trial next year if those early study results are positive.

But the project can be quicky redirected to target another form of influenza if a different threat than the H5N1 form of bird flu emerges, HHS officials stressed.

The award was made through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a program that focuses on medical treatments for potential pandemics.

The H5N1 virus was detected earlier this year in dairy cows and has spread to more than 135 herds in 12 states and infected three people to date, all with mild cases. Federal health officials stress that the risk to the wider population remains low.

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