- Moderna is starting to develop a combination vaccine for COVID-19 and influenza.
- Experts say a combination shot would be more convenient for consumers and more efficient for medical professionals.
- They hope such a shot can boost vaccination compliance for both COVID-19 and the flu.
As experts move closer toward deciding if COVID-19 vaccines will require an annual booster, one vaccine producer is hedging bets and starting to develop a combination COVID-19 booster/influenza shot.
Moderna, which received an emergency use approval for their COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020 and is awaiting full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, is in the process of creating that combination shot.
“Why develop a COVID-19 and influenza booster? Because these are both respiratory viruses that we have observed really increase in incidence over the winter months, particularly when we’re driven indoors,” Dr. Jacqueline Miller, a senior vice president of Moderna, said at the company’s annual R&D Day last week.
She added that convenience may be key to long-term success against both illnesses.
“Should COVID-19 become an endemic disease, it would increase both convenience and compliance for patients if they were able to get those boosters in a single shot,” she said.
Dr. Paul Goepfert, the director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, notes that we still “don’t know what’s going to happen” with COVID-19 booster shots.
However, he said, if boosters are needed, a combination shot with an annual flu vaccination makes sense.
“It’s more about convenience than anything,” Goepfert told Healthline.
Because of that, he said, he does not believe Moderna is putting the cart before the horse by pursuing this.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, agrees.
He told Healthline that Moderna’s investment in creating the combo shot could be a sign that we will need annual boosters for COVID-19.
“No company would invest in this” without a strong feeling it will be needed, Schaffner said.
Schaffner pointed out that dual vaccines have been used for years, particularly in the pediatric population.
The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine have long been used in the general public.
The reason, he said, is simple.
“It reduces what we call the pin cushion effect,” he said.
In other words, the idea of fewer shots is more comforting to the general public. In addition, combination shots reduce doctor visits as well as allow officials to consolidate supplies.
For that reason, Schaffner said, the public shouldn’t worry about the combination COVID-19/flu vaccination if it happens.
“Think of them as any other vaccination,” he said. “This just makes it easier and quicker.”
Goepfert said that since we’ve already begun giving influenza shots and COVID-19 vaccines, we’ve seen that the two do not have negative reactions when given at the same time.
Still, Moderna is conducting clinical trials to verify that.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a bad reaction to the combination,” Goepfert said.
At the Moderna meeting, Miller said the need for a dual shot has been proven in the past.
“So, as we presented at Vaccine Day in April, one of the pillars of our vaccine strategy is to deliver respiratory combination vaccines,” she said.
She added that vaccines provide protection year in and year out.
“Vaccines to prevent that annual winter occurrence could really reduce not only symptoms, time off of work and school, but in the very old and very young in particular can help keep patients out of the hospital,” she said.
Goepfert said the mRNA vaccines are “very quickly amenable to change, so when and if strains change, adapting them to what the public needs to be protected from each year should be able to be done.”
Schaffner said because minor side effects could be experienced, studies will need to assure the public ahead of time that those are to be expected and are safe.
Schaffner said that a combination shot could also bring the public back to something they may have lost track of in the past year and a half.
That the flu can be dangerous, too.
“We are going to have to reintroduce people to influenza,” Schaffner said.
Why? Because during the COVID-19 pandemic, flu cases decreased, something some experts say came from masking, physical distancing, and quarantine.
But, Schaffner said, influenza did not go away.
“We used to talk about it before COVID-19 and we need to be talking about it now,” he said.
Schaffner said he hopes a combined shot will boost the number of people who get vaccinated.
“This may indeed improve compliance for influenza, or it make work the other way around (and improve compliance for COVID-19),” he said.
As Moderna works toward the goal, they have more in sight.
They hope to eventually also include a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine in the dose, making it a three-way fighter. That RSV vaccine has yet to reach the market.