Coronavirus: Pfizer, BioNTech to test combination vaccine for COVID-19, flu

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Thursday that they have begun a study to test a combination vaccine for COVID-19 and the flu.

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In a news release, the drugmakers said they started a Phase 1 trial of an mRNA-based vaccine designed to protect against both respiratory diseases. The candidate combines Pfizer’s qIRV influenza vaccine, which is “in Phase 3 clinical development,” with the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, which was designed to protect against the omicron variant, the companies said.

The companies hope to enroll 180 healthy U.S. adults, ages 18 to 64, in the study and follow up with each participant after six months, the release said.

“The flexibility and manufacturing speed of the mRNA technology has demonstrated that it is well-suited for other respiratory diseases,” Annaliesa Anderson, Pfizer’s senior vice president and chief scientific officer for vaccine research and development, said in a statement. “Pfizer is deeply proud of our continued work to explore its potential to protect against influenza and COVID-19 in one combination vaccine, which we think could simplify immunization practices against these two respiratory pathogens, potentially leading to better vaccine uptake for both diseases. Even with existing seasonal influenza vaccines, the burden of this virus is severe across the world, causing thousands of deaths and hospitalizations every year. This is an exciting step in our ongoing journey with BioNTech as we collectively look to transform the prevention of infectious diseases around the world.”

The news comes less than a month after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials updated their COVID-19 vaccine guidance to recommend Pfizer’s bivalent booster for children as young as 5 and Moderna’s for children ages 6 and up.

As of Wednesday, the rate of new COVID-19 cases appeared to be rising domestically and declining globally, according to The New York Times. The U.S. was averaging 39,090 new cases per day, up 3% from two weeks earlier, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the worldwide average was 319,536 new cases per day, down 29% in the same period.

As for fatalities, the U.S. averaged 345 deaths per day – a decrease of 6% from two weeks earlier, the newspaper reported. The global average was 1,576 daily deaths, down 1% from 14 days earlier.

The CDC reported Wednesday that 68.4% of the U.S. population is considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19. About 22.8 million residents have received a bivalent booster dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the agency said.

Last week, Dr. Ashish Jha, leader of the White House’s COVID-19 response, also confirmed to The Associated Press that the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, are circulating in the U.S.