The U.S. government will pay the vaccine maker Moderna $176 million to develop a pandemic vaccine that could be used to treat bird flu in people as cases in dairy cows continue to mount across the country, federal officials announced Tuesday.

The funds are targeted for release through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will pay for continued development of a vaccine that uses the same mRNA technology that allowed rapid development and rollout of vaccines to protect against COVID-19. The award was made through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a program that focuses on medical treatments for potential pandemics.

Moderna will launch trials to test the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine that could be used to scale up a response to a bird flu pandemic, if needed.

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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