Are Chicken Eggs the Best Way to Make the Swine Flu Vaccine?

Swine flu vaccine production is behind schedule. Is there a faster way?

Oct. 28, 2009— -- Amazingly, vaccines today are made the same way they've been made for half a century -- with a reliance on millions of chicken eggs to grow the virus.

"We need more information from the government, and we need to act now to find out how we're going to get enough swine flu vaccine to take care of the citizens of this country," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the floor of the Senate today.

There are faster, more reliable ways to make vaccines. Some companies insist they could have made sure the swine flu vaccine was ready by now.

"There are at least 10 to 20, maybe even 50, companies that are pursuing different approaches," said Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

In Meriden, Conn., one company has found a way to use cells from caterpillars to make vaccines.

"It's a lot like reprogramming your computer. If we tell cells what to make, they make it," said Dan Adams of Protein Sciences Corp.

The vaccine is grown in vats and then purified. It's then ready to be injected. The whole process takes about two months.

It currently takes five or six months to make vaccines using chicken eggs.

So why are we still held hostage to such "primitive" production methods?

"I wish this had been accelerated 10 years ago. It wasn't," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told ABC News today.

"The government dropped the ball. They should have been funding these new technologies years ago so we could be making vaccines faster today," said Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic.

Testing Vaccines Overseas

The Connecticut company already has produced 100,000 doses of the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine. But it's being tested in Australia -- not in the U.S.

Why aren't they testing it here in America?

"Because the U.S. government didn't provide the funding, and the Australians did," said Adams.

Fortunately, this swine flu hasn't been as bad as it could have been. But it's awakened many to just how antiquated America's vaccine production really is.

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