One of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, primarily responsible for producing millions of COVID-19 vaccines, is working on a combined influenza and coronavirus shot.
American regulators have given Pfizer and BioNTech early-stage approval to fast-track a single-dose vaccine candidate that would target the flu virus and work to protect against an Omicron variant strain.
The companies are already in preliminary trials to review the safety and efficacy of their combined vaccine among healthy adults.
Pfizer and BioNTech would use mRNA technology targetting the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants and four flu viruses identified as the primary strains this year by the World Health Organization (WHO).
It would be the first combo vaccine to prevent severe illness from two respiratory diseases in a single dose.
Pfizer has already been working on an improved influenza vaccine. In September, the pharmaceutical giant announced a 25,000-participant trial in the U.S. aimed to demonstrate superior efficacy over a traditional vaccine by the end of the flu season in North America.
If the trial proves successful, Pfizer’s improved flu shot could be ready in 2024.
Moderna has also worked hard to develop a similarly superior flu shot and will seek accelerated approval next year.
Flu season hitting children, seniors the hardest
According to Bloomberg, researchers have explored an mRNA vaccine that targets the flu way before the global COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017, Kathrin Jansen, previously of Pfizer, said at the time she “got really, really excited that mRNA might be the right technology for influenza.”
In Canada, pediatric hospital admissions are surging under a triple threat of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the healthcare system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of five to six kids died per flu season across Canada, data collected from 12 hospitals across the country shows.
Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada for the week ending Nov. 26 show that children under five still made up the highest number of hospitalized flu patients. Still, the rate at which people 65 years of age and older are hospitalized is also rising.
Hospitalizations among young children and seniors have increased sharply over recent weeks during a flu season that started earlier than usual.
Flu infections among adults will likely continue to rise, Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said, noting that the influenza season typically peaks sometime in January, with cases dropping off through February and then petering out in the late winter.
“We’re already in a tough flu season, and we probably have several more months of this to go.”
With files from The Canadian Press.