Q&A: Bird Flu Vaccine

Following are questions regarding vaccine development to combat the bird flu, along with responses from Dr. John Treanor, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Q: Will a vaccine be available for the public to buy? -- Nada, Nigeria

A: This is unlikely -- I would imagine that distribution of any vaccines for pandemic flu will be done by government.

Q: Why isn't our federal government doing more to make sure we can all have a bird flu vaccine -- such as building vaccine plants? -- April, Buffalo, Wyo.

A: Actually, the federal government is spending about $3.5 billion this year, mostly on developing flu vaccine infrastructure, including vaccine plants.

Q: Isn't it more effective to work on a bird flu vaccine than stockpiling Tamiflu? -- Nhi, Lincoln, Neb.

A: Vaccines and antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza are two complementary strategies. Each has its particular strengths and weaknesses -- which is why it is important to incorporate both components, as well as other strategies, into pandemic planning.

Q: I am allergic to eggs. Is the flu vaccine being made from eggs? If so, do I have another option? -- Gail, Maryland

A: It is very difficult to use something other than eggs to make flu vaccines, but not impossible. I would expect to see flu vaccines made in cell culture [without eggs] licensed in the U.S. in the next 10 years, but it is not a sure thing. The good news is that most people with egg allergy can be desensitized and safely vaccinated -- see your doctor about this.

Q: According to news reports, this flu is mutating at an alarming rate, transferring from birds to now reports of other animals. How can a vaccine be synthesized and distributed to the general populace, and would this be effective given the rate of reported mutation?" -- George, Seattle

A: In much the same way that the regular flu shot must be updated each year to keep pace with changes in the flu virus, we expect that the pandemic vaccines will also need to be reformulated as new variants emerge.