Medical Moment: Researchers using mRNA technology to improve flu vaccine

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 5:37 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Scientists who developed the COVID-19 vaccine used a new technology called messenger RNA.

Now, researchers at Yale University are building on that discovery by using mRNA technology to improve the flu vaccine. The COVID-19 pandemic required a rapid response from scientists, bringing vaccine technology that had been studied for years front and center.

“And I think that when the world had an urgent need for vaccines when the Sars-CoV-2 virus hit, that causes COVID, then it became an opportunity to test this new approach to vaccine development,” said Onyema Ogbuagu, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine.

Traditional vaccines put a weakened germ into our bodies, but mRNA shots, like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines teach cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response if someone gets infected.

Researchers take that mRNA template and can encode it for the flu, or other infectious diseases. It would also make it easier to tweak during flu season, if there’s a different dominant strain circulating.

“It’s a technology that can be deployed pretty rapidly,” Dr. Ogbuagu continued.

Dr. Ogbuagu says the mRNA flu vaccine would not necessarily be better than the traditional shot, but it does mean more people could be protected.

“Remember that some individuals do not tolerate the already approved influenza vaccines, so this gives them another option,” Dr. Ogbuagu said.

Another option to stop or slow the spread of a serious and potentially deadly infectious disease.

The mRNA vaccine is currently being studied in a clinical trial. The technology is also being studied for protection against rabies, Lyme disease, and even HIV.