Until last week, influenza vaccine makers were limited to producing flu vaccines using a 40-year-old technology that depends on using fertilized chicken eggs to grow virus strains- meaning that it takes several months to make an influenza vaccine.  Makers needed to organize sterile egg supplies and incubate the virus in them before the vaccine could be made and delivered.  That’s why it took 6 months or so to develop the H1N1 vaccine during the 2009 pandemic.

Public health has known for a long time that relying on this 40-year-old egg-based technology poses a huge response and public health risk- especially if a severe pandemic strain were to break loose.  That’s why the US Department of Health & Human Services invested more than $1B in the development of a new cell-culture technology to develop the influenza vaccine.  A cell-culture technology will allow the public health system to make a brand-new influenza vaccine in a matter of weeks rather than months.

That investment paid off a couple of days ago- when the FDA  approved the first seasonal flu vaccine produced using cultured animal cells, instead of fertilized chicken eggs.  The vaccine is called Flucelvax and it’ll be available for people 18 and older.  The new vaccine isn’t in large scale production yet…  but it will be as soon as Novartis gets its manufacturing facility up and running.   

This breakthrough will also have another side benefit.  If you have an egg allergy and have always wanted to do the right thing for your community and get vaccinated for influenza, but couldn’t…  this new technology will allow your day to finally come.  Like I said…  it’s not widely available yet, but I’m sure it will be for next season. 

This new cell-culture technology will likely become the new standard for influenza vaccine production- and importantly- it adds an important layer of protection for pandemic readiness.