A new way to make flu vaccine

October 19, 2008 5:04:33 AM PDT
It's flu shot season, and this year, there seems to be plenty of vaccine around. For decades, that vaccine has been incubated in fresh eggs. However, that could change.

Dr. Christine Hay does her best to prevent flu in her family.

Unfortunately,,, one year they all got it despite getting flu shots. The vaccine that year didn't match the virus strain going around... They were victims of the educated guess that goes into creating the yearly flu vaccine.

Dr. John Treanor, infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester, says, "It's just like weather prediction, where you get better at that every year, but you know, it's still not possible to always predict things exactly right."

Traditionally, making flu vaccine requires millions of fertilized eggs.

It takes about 10 weeks to produce 400-thousand doses.

But a number of things can go wrong - the virus may not grow in the egg, or as happened a few years ago, there can be contamination in the lab.

If an unexpected strain of flu arrives, there's not enough time to make a new vaccine.

So now a new vaccine is being tested...that bypasses the egg process. The protein for the vaccine, is called Flu-Blok. It's grown in a lab in caterpillar cells.

Using Flu-Blok means vaccines can be made faster....so there's less guesswork in making the vaccine.

Dr. Treanor says, "You can wait a little bit longer to make your decision. That's an advantage."

The new system is also more efficient and can result in a stronger dose.

"There's some evidence that giving a higher dose stimulates a more vigourous immune response," says Dr. Treanor.

For now, Dr. Hay has her own strategy for warding off influenza this year.

"We might do both the shots and the nasal vaccine, says Dr. Hay, with a laugh. "There's no data it's any better, but we're going to try everything we can!"


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