Combining the COVID-19 and Flu Vaccines

It has recently come about that there is potential for a vaccine to protect from two harmful illnesses.

Flu season is currently underway, meaning plenty of coughing and sneezing spreading around. Most of these symptoms affect the respiratory system, commonly associated with the common cold, flu, and COVID-19. To counteract this issue, Moderna, a vaccine company giant, is currently developing a combined COVID-19 and influenza “flu” vaccine. Moderna believes combining vaccines is an important opportunity. It could enhance vaccination rates and coverage to all age groups by limiting the amount of shots a person would need to take to remain protected. Moderna also has another combined vaccine in the works which includes COVID-19, influenza, and the common respiratory virus (RSV), in hopes to eliminate the flu season for good.

What is the current status on COVID-19 and the Flu?
According to the CDC, as of November 14, COVID-19 cases in the United States reach 97.8M, with just over 1M in COVID-19 deaths. The CDC predicts the 2021-2022 flu season to reach 9M cases and lead to about 5,000 deaths. Currently, it is recommended from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Novavax, that two COVID-19 vaccine shots, administered 3-8 weeks apart from each other, should be take by those ages five and older. However, additional booster shots are recommended for those younger than five, or those with weakened immune systems. The CDC recommends ages eight and older to take one dosage of the flu vaccine every flu season, while those younger than eight should be vaccinated twice. The flu virus is constantly changing, and while the vaccine may be effective, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to fully initiate. Because of the prolonged time and inconvenience of taking multiple vaccination doses, Moderna’s research into combination vaccines could be crucial for significantly reducing time and costs while also decreasing the number of cases.

Nurse holding a vaccine near a patient's arm

How is this combination vaccine created safely?
Moderna is combining mRNA technology with current booster vaccine technology to create this combined vaccine. This means scientists are creating key proteins in specialized laboratories, ready to be slightly modified and inserted into modern booster vaccines. While this may seem unsafe, Moderna is currently underway phase three of the four phases of vaccine development, which means the combined COVID-19 and flu vaccine has shown to be safe. It is currently being testing to increase effectiveness and allow for these researchers to study possible side effects. Before this vaccine reached phase three, Moderna commenced a trial of multiple volunteers to test the combined vaccine, and it had only shown success without any noticeable side effects. Though current results from these volunteer studies have shown nothing but success, safety is always the first priority when developing complex vaccines, especially combined vaccines. They could easily cause unintended consequences and side effects due to the many combined variables, so the testing phase is crucial.

Have combined vaccines been deemed safe in the past?
Combining vaccines may seem revolutionary, but has been proven safe and effective since the mid 1940s. This was for not just two combined vaccines, but three combined vaccines that cover up to five different diseases. Pediarix and Pentacel are some of the more commonly known combination vaccines. While not a new concept, the development of the combined COVID-19 and flu, along with the similar COVID-19, Flu, and RSV vaccine, could be groundbreaking for modern health. The prices of manufacturing and distribution of vaccines will fall, making vaccines more affordable and accessible to the world. Overall, the increased efficiency of combination vaccines such as the upcoming COVID-19 and Flu vaccine could significantly improve the lives of everyone. People won’t need to schedule more costly doctor’s appointments while receiving the added benefits of protection from multiple viruses. After testing is complete, this vaccine has would appear to have great potential.