Swine Flu Vaccine at Least 6 Months Away
But CDC Says There Won't Be Enough Vaccine for Entire U.S. Population
Faster Swine Flu Vaccine?
The second interesting phrase in the CDC announcement is "by traditional methods."
Hens can lay only so many eggs in the sterile production facilities used to make vaccine. It's a tricky process, and a lot can go wrong -- but in most years, flu production goes smoothly along its six-month time track.
If growing viruses in eggs seems old-fashioned, that's because it is. There is a faster way to grow vaccine viruses -- in cultures of human cells -- and it's already approved in Europe. Baxter International Inc. has already asked the CDC for seed virus to get production under way.
And according to media reports, Baxter already is in talks with the World Health Organization about making a swine flu version of its Celvapan vaccine. Baxter told Dow Jones Newswire it could make vaccine available 12 to 16 weeks after getting a seed strain of the virus.
And there are other technologies, too. For example, Novavax Inc., in Rockville, Md., says its virus-like particle technology could produce a swine flu vaccine in 10 to 12 weeks.
One reason officials may hesitate to order a flu vaccine made by methods that haven't yet met the FDA's safety standard is the U.S. experience during the 1976 swine flu scare.
That year, a deadly swine flu outbreak among military recruits in New Jersey led to crash development of a swine flu vaccine. Just as the vaccine was about to be deployed, vaccine makers asked the government to indemnify them against any possible harm the vaccine might cause.
That led people to suspect -- wrongly, as it turned out -- that the manufacturers suspected the vaccine was unsafe. And when serious side effects occurred in a small number of early vaccine recipients, the entire vaccine program came to a halt. Later analysis -- too late to save the CDC and the Ford administration major embarrassment -- showed these side effects weren't actually unusually frequent.
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti contributed to this report.