June 13, 2011

Ready For A Flu Pandemic?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- In a new research article, Harvard scientists outline a variety of factors that influence vaccine production and access to those vaccines.

Researchers say the technologies used to manufacture different types of vaccines affect cost and availability. Other factors such as different national regulations, shelf life, and cold chain requirements may also influence vaccine cost.

For example, the researchers say the oral polio vaccine strains grow well in culture, which allows production of hundreds of millions of doses at a low cost. However, the multivalent pneumococcus and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines require more complex production methods, which drives up their cost.

The egg-based manufacturing system has been reliably supplying seasonal flu vaccines for several decades. However, the study authors note that this system has timing and capacity constraints. The authors say new technologies such as cell culture or recombinant DNA methods could be used in the future to express viral proteins in insect cells, tobacco plants or fungi. They say these technologies could be a better way to respond to global demands during a pandemic. However, they conclude that the path ahead for these technologies is not straightforward, and egg-based production will likely be the main source for many years.

"The response of global industry is not yet sufficient to meet the full need for pandemic influenza vaccine in a timely and equitable manner and, even with improvements, vaccine will need to be used wisely to achieve maximum protection," the study authors conclude.

SOURCE: The Lancet, June, 2011