(NEWSnet/AP) – The U.S. government will pay Moderna $176 million to accelerate development of an influenza vaccine that could potentially be used to target bird flu among humans, federal officials announced.

Moderna has a bird flu vaccine in very early-stage testing that uses the same mRNA technology that allowed rapid development and rollout of vaccines to protect against COVID-19. The new funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services include continued development of the vaccine, including a late-stage trial next year if those early study results are positive.

This project can be quicky redirected to target another form of influenza if a different threat than the H5N1 form of bird flu emerges, HHS officials stressed.

The award was made through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a program that focuses on medical treatments for potential pandemics.

The H5N1 virus was detected earlier this year in dairy cows and has spread to more than 135 herds in 12 states and infected three people to date, all with mild cases. Federal health officials stress that the risk to the wider population remains low.

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