Long Island infectious disease experts Monday called trials underway on a vaccine against COVID-19 and the flu a potential “game-changer” in the effort to protect against both viruses.
Pfizer and its Germany-based partner, BioNTech SE, said last week that phase one of the trials has begun as the companies seek to determine the safety, effectiveness and tolerability of the combination shot.
The trial is taking place in the United States, where the companies hope to involve 180 participants, ages 18 through 64, and in good health. Follow-up with each participant will last six months.
The shot combines the companies’ bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that targets the omicron variant, and a quadrivalent flu vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech said. Both utilize mRNA technology.
Dr. Syra Madad, a Roslyn resident and an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said: "While still in its early stages of development, this single dose vaccine has the potential to be a game-changer."
“Both viruses are distinct and can cause severe infection as well as strain health care systems,” she added. “Having a one-shot approach will help increase vaccine coverage for both respiratory viruses and reduce overall infections, hospitalizations and deaths.”
In September, drugmaker Moderna announced it was also developing a single vaccine against COVID-19 and the flu.
Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatrician and an infectious disease expert at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, also hailed the trials as a potentially positive step to combating both COVID-19 and the annual flu.
“I believe it will be a great asset to have for our population,” Kainth said.
But she said it is doubtful the vaccine will be ready in time for the current flu season.
The vaccine would make it easier for people since they would only have to get one shot — and have one sore arm, Kainth said.
She also hopes it will increase the number of people who get the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who have gotten the new COVID-19 vaccines targeting the omicron variant have been fewer than what medical experts hoped for, according to Kainth.
“The public has not gotten up to speed with this news, that the omicron booster is going to be effective,” she said.
Many people thought that with the initial or primary series of two shots they would be protected permanently, she said, but the effectiveness of those shots wanes with time.
Annaliesa Anderson, senior vice president and chief scientific officer for vaccine research and development for Pfizer, said in a statement that the one-shot dose, if approved, could simplify immunization practices, “potentially leading to better vaccine uptake for both diseases.”
“The flexibility and manufacturing speed of the mRNA technology has demonstrated that it is well-suited for other respiratory diseases,” Anderson said. “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.”
Data from the trials “will help us to further develop our infectious disease pipeline” to protect people, said Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech SE, in a statement.
Also Monday, data released by New York State showed that COVID-19 continues to circulate — and cause hospitalizations and even deaths, though at far lower levels than March and April 2020 when the pandemic broke out.
A total of 21 people died on Friday of causes linked to COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health, while 2,804 were hospitalized.
Gov. Kathy Hochul noted that a third severe respiratory illness, Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV, is also circulating in the state.