Moderna says COVID booster, like flu vaccine, could be yearly

Moderna Chairman Noubar Afeyan also discusses the development of a single vaccine that combines COVID booster with flu shot

Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, discussed a new COVID-19 therapeutic and booster shots during an exclusive interview  on "Mornings with Maria" on Tuesday, noting that there could be a "continuous need for boosting" every year similar "to what we do with the flu vaccine."

"We aren’t really going to be sure until we look in hindsight," he told host Maria Bartiromo

"We just don’t know how this virus is going to travel from being a pandemic all the way to potentially an endemic virus we have to get used to living with," Afeyan added.

"If that’s where it ends up, then it may well need an annual booster, potentially varying on a year-to-year or every few years’ basis as the virus varies, similarly to what we do with the flu vaccine and so I think if we end up there, there will be a continuous need for boosting" 

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He stressed that "boosting gives us the antibodies that are the first line of defense in our body to either preventing or counteracting the virus getting into the body." 

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In September, Moderna first said it is developing a single vaccine that combines a booster dose against COVID-19 with its experimental flu shot. 

Speaking with Bartiromo on Thursday he discussed the trials for the company’s mRNA seasonal flu vaccine.  

"We are very excited several months ago to announce that we are going to be developing a seasonal flu vaccine, which we very much hope to have data on in the not too distant future," Afeyan said. "And we are hopeful that we will see similarly encouraging results from just the whole platform from mRNA so that we are able to show robust and effective vaccination." 

"Once we do that, we’ve also said publicly that we will likely combine these so that the seasonal vaccine in the future might well be a combination of MRNA for COVID-19 as well as for seasonal flu or whatever version of COVID is attacking us at that time," he continued. "So that is a major convenience, compliance and protection kind of mechanism." 

He also noted that "beyond that, we’re looking to add additional vaccines and respiratory potentially in combination so that we think about this type of protection as a part of how we’re living, coexisting with viruses that are increasing in terms of the threat to us." 

Moderna has a total of 37 programs in development across 34 development candidates, including 22 in ongoing clinical studies. 

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 This June 14, 2021, file photo shows a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine vial. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko / AP Newsroom)

Certain people who received Pfizer vaccinations months ago are eligible for a booster and now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says specific Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients also qualify

As a result, more than 9,800 CVS pharmacies across the nation are now offering the Moderna COVID-19 booster shot to eligible populations in addition to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 booster. 

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Also, eligible patients can receive the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine booster shots at Walgreens stores nationwide. 

Consumers who are six months past their last Pfizer or Moderna vaccination are urged to get a booster if they’re 65 or older, nursing home residents, or at least 50 and at increased risk of severe disease because of health problems. 

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Adults of any age at increased risk of infection because of health problems or their jobs or living conditions are also allowed to get boosters. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.

Afeyan said that "we definitely think this will be a record year for us and a very strong basis for what’s to come in the future" as the world gets more access to the primary vaccine and as "the booster application in the developed countries begins to now take off."

He spoke with Bartiromo one day after Moderna said that a low dose of its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and appears to work in 6 to 11-year-olds, as the company joins its rival Pfizer in moving toward expanding shots to children.

In a news release, Moderna said preliminary results from a study where two shots containing half the dose given to adults were administered to a group of 6- to 11-year-olds one month apart showed vaccinated children developed virus-fighting antibodies similar to levels that young adults produce after full-strength shots.

Moderna hasn’t yet gotten the green light to offer its vaccine to teens, but is studying lower doses in younger children while the company waits.

Meantime, Pfizer’s vaccine doses for children are closer to widespread use as they are currently undergoing evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those ages 5 to 11. Those doses could be available by early November and Pfizer’s vaccine is already authorized for anyone 12 or older. 

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On Tuesday, FDA’s advisers will weigh Pfizer’s evidence in a public meeting and if the agency authorizes Pfizer’s shots for children, next week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to recommend who should receive them. 

Afeyan, who is the founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, a venture capital company focused on biotechnology and the firm that founded Moderna, also discussed the clinical program to develop treatment for patients with long COVID. 

Axcella Health, founded by Flagship Pioneering, announced the launch of the new clinical program on Tuesday. 

"One of our companies today announced a phase 2 trial, a company called Axcella, that’s going after long COVID because we expect there will be millions and millions of people, some of whom did not get infected in a very strong kind of symptomatic way, who are demonstrating months later the effect of this infection," Afeyan told Bartiromo. 

"This virus seems to leave some longer-term effects and I think, all else being equal, we ought to do everything we can to prevent getting infected as opposed to kind of assuming that it’s going to be fine if we do." 

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Led by researchers at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, the clinical trial is expected to begin by the end of this year and data is expected by mid-2022, according to a news release, which noted that out of the more than 240 million cases of COVID-19 that have been reported globally so far, it is estimated that nearly 25% of these people suffer from the virus’s long-term effects. 

The patients continue to experience several symptoms months after their initial COVID diagnosis, with fatigue being the most common associated with the condition, according to the news release.

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FOX Business’ Daniella Genovese, Lucas Manfredi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.