Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are developing an experimental mRNA ‘vaccine’ for avian influenza.

“An experimental mRNA vaccine against avian influenza virus H5N1 is highly effective in preventing severe illness and death in preclinical models. The vaccine could potentially help manage the outbreak of the H5N1 virus currently circulating in birds and cattle in the United States, and prevent human infections with the virus,” a news release from Penn Medicine News read.

The scientists published the research on May 23, 2024, in Nature Communications. 

“The mRNA technology allows us to be much more agile in developing vaccines; we can start creating a mRNA vaccine within hours of sequencing a new viral strain with pandemic potential,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine.

“During previous influenza pandemics, like the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, vaccines were difficult to manufacture and did not become available until after the initial pandemic waves subsided,” he added.

From Penn Medicine News:

Hensley and his laboratory collaborated in the study with the laboratory of mRNA vaccine pioneer and Nobel Prize winner, Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and Director of Vaccine Research at Penn Medicine.

“Before 2020, experts thought the influenza virus posed the greatest risk of causing a pandemic, and we had limited options for creating a vaccine if that had happened,” said Weissman. “COVID-19 showed us the power of mRNA-based vaccines as tool to protect humans from emerging viruses quickly, and we are better prepared now to respond to a variety of viruses with pandemic potential, including influenza”

Most influenza vaccines are egg-based, where experts inject fertilized chicken eggs with what they predict will be the dominant viral strain, let it replicate, and then inactivate the virus to use in the flu shots distributed globally. However, viruses must first be adapted to replicate in fertilized eggs before these conventional vaccines can be produced, which can take up to six months, presenting potential problems for quickly producing vaccine when it’s needed most during the first few months of a pandemic. mRNA vaccines are easily and quickly adapted to protect against different strains of influenza viruses, and don’t require eggs for their development.

The Penn researchers developed an mRNA vaccine targeting a specific subtype of the H5N1 virus that is circulating widely in birds and cattle. While it rarely infects humans, some fear that the virus may evolve and cause a human pandemic. The researchers found that the vaccine elicited a strong antibody and T cell response in mice and ferrets. What’s more, the animals maintained high levels of antibodies even a year after vaccination. Additionally, the researchers found that vaccinated animals who were subsequently infected with H5N1 cleared the virus more rapidly and displayed fewer symptoms than unvaccinated controls. The researchers also note that all of the vaccinated animals survived following H5N1 infection, whereas all the unvaccinated animals died.

In addition to the mRNA bird flu vaccine under development by University of Pennsylvania researchers, Pfizer and Moderna are allegedly in talks with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to manufacture a mRNA-based vaccine.

Pfizer And Moderna To Manufacture Bird Flu Vaccines? HHS To Produce Nearly 5 Million Doses

With reports of two additional human cases of H5N1 Avian Influenza, the fear campaign for bird flu has started ramping up to another level.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s preparing for the “possibility of increased risk to human health” from bird flu, ABC News noted.

“The CDC has confirmed a second human case of the highly contagious bird flu virus linked to an outbreak in dairy cows. Health officials say a Michigan farmworker recovered after mild symptoms, and likely contracted the virus from infected livestock,” World News Tonight stated.

WATCH:

Australia recently reported its first-ever human case of bird flu.

Per ABC News:

Australia has recorded its first ever human case of one particular strain of the bird flu, after H5N1 avian influenza was detected in a child travelling home to Victoria.

The Victorian Department of Health confirmed the child returning to the country became unwell in March and subsequently tested positive to the avian influenza, also known as bird flu.

“The child experienced a severe infection but is no longer unwell and has made a full recovery,” the spokesperson said.

“Contact tracing has not identified any further cases of avian influenza connected to this case.”

The department reassured the community that the chances of additional human cases was “very low”.

Read the full study published in Nature Communications

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