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Could Cells, Not Eggs, Power Vaccine Production?

Despite moving early to initiate production of a vaccine for H1N1 influenza, it’s now clear that the federal government will not have nearly has many doses ready this season as officials originally claimed. Reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times indicate that the administration relied on production estimates provided by the five companies contracted to produce the vaccines, but problems ranging from slow vaccine growth in the chicken egg cultures to bottlenecks loading the vaccine into syringes forced down the number of doses delivered on time. “As recently as late July,” according to the New York Times, “the government was predicting having 160 million doses by this month.” More recently, that figure went down to 40 million doses, and this month the administration revised it again to only 28 million.

One potential way to ensure that a future push to generate massive quantities of vaccine will meet its projections is to invest in cell-based vaccine research. “For decades, most experts have agreed that the process of manufacturing influenza vaccine through hens’ eggs is archaic and needs to be improved,” explains Ricardo Rossello in a recent Science Progress feature. Growing the vaccines in cell cultures rather than eggs means manufacturers are not at the mercy of hen egg-laying cycles, nor would there be a need for extra precautions to ensure that egg-grown doses are free of bacterial contamination. In short, research into cell-based vaccine production could potentially build a system better able to meet the surge capacity of pandemics like the one we currently face.

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