Sept. 16, 2022 – The drug company Pfizer says it has started giving its experimental mRNA influenza vaccine to some of the 25,000 adults taking part in stage III clinical trials for the vaccine.
The company says the vaccine, which uses the same mRNA technology that was used in the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, could be produced faster than traditional flu vaccines. That would make it easier to match a vaccine to battle constantly changing flu strains.
“The flexibility of mRNA technology and its rapid manufacturing could potentially allow better strain matches in future years, and in a pandemic influenza situation, mRNA technology could allow rapid, large-scale manufacturing of vaccines,” Pfizer said in a news release.
Pfizer’s rival, Moderna, announced last June that it had started phase III clinical trials for its own version of a flu vaccine using mRNA technology. In a news release, Moderna said the clinical trial was expected to enroll 6,000 adults in “Southern Hemisphere countries.”
“Moderna is proactively preparing for a confirmatory efficacy study for mRNA-1010 as early as the 2022/2023 Northern Hemisphere influenza season, if needed,” the release said.
Current flu vaccines are grown in chicken eggs and are produced to match particular flu strains. In a complicated guessing game, scientists must predict the dominant strain of the flu season by as much as 6 months before flu season starts.
The CDC estimates that the flu resulted in 12,000 to 52,000 deaths and 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations each year between 2010 and 2020, with a greater impact on racial and ethnic minority groups.
Pfizer said the phase III study follows phase II trials that showed the vaccine is safe. The flu vaccine will be based on World Health Organization-recommended strains for the Northern Hemisphere for 2022-23, the news release said.
“Our experience with RNA viruses and mRNA technology has given us an even deeper understanding of the opportunity to potentially provide more efficacious vaccines that could further reduce the yearly rates of the severe outcomes of viral disease like flu, including hospitalization and death,” Annaliesa Anderson, PhD, senior vice president and chief scientific officer in vaccine research and development for Pfizer, said in the news release.