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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

What's new: Scientists announced Wednesday they have successfully developed three key advances toward a possible pandemic flu vaccine — and it's one that could eventually be delivered to your doorstep via the mail, and be self-administered.

Why it matters: One of public health officials' greatest fears is another flu pandemic that could kill millions. It's not a question of if another one occurs, but rather when. Pandemics can kill large amounts of people worldwide. The largest influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish flu, occurred 100 years ago. It killed at least 50 million people.

Background:

What they did: In the study, published in Science Advances, the team took three major new steps.

1. They developed a short, hollow microneedle that penetrates only the top layer of the skin rather than the muscle, allowing it to be self-administered.

  • "The idea of a self-administration has been very important with [the development of] a pandemic flu vaccine," study co-author Darrick Carter told Axios.
  • Infectious Disease Research Institute's Carter says they plan to develop bandages or patches with an array of dissolvable microneedles to make a relatively painless and easy-to-administer vaccine that could be mailed in an envelope or distributed for free outside grocery stores.
  • Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who was not part of the study, tells Axios the technological advances are important. "This gadget allows you to accurately give the vaccine to yourself."

2. They produced a noninfectious flu vaccine that would protect against the very deadly Indonesia H5N1 flu virus in an expedited process. It manufactures the vaccine in 3–4 weeks versus the normal 4-6 months needed for egg-based vaccines.

  • They used a tobacco plant-based system developed by Canadian company Medicago under a DARPA program that produced 30 million doses in 30 days, Carter says.
  • It's a recombinant vaccine, which means it contains virus-like particles that are not contagious and could be safely transported through the mail.
  • However, Fauci points out that the vaccine itself isn't a true pandemic vaccine because no one knows if a novel H5N1 strain will pop up again. In the meantime, he says multiple organizations continue their efforts to develop a universal vaccine.

3. They added an immune booster to the vaccine, called an adjuvant, which was deemed safe in their 100 person trial — making it the first one deemed safe for intradermal use.

  • The adjuvant has been shown to boost the response rate of other types of vaccines, and it proved very effective here too, Carter says.
  • Fauci agrees: "This showed remarkable enhancement of vaccine responses."
  • Carter says the effectiveness is due to the combo of the adjuvant and the intradermal shot into the skin — which he says can be more effective than an intramuscular vaccine, since 70% of a person's immune system is in their skin and lungs.

Next step: Carter says they will aim for larger human trials and the creation of the vaccine into a bandage with dissolvable microneedles.

"If we can get it into the intradermal system, we'll have a significant enough response to trigger the immune system," Carter says.

Go deeper

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters rallied outside fortified statehouses over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.