Vaccine technology effective but old

Lufkin, TX (KTRE) - H1N1 vaccines have made their way to East Texas, but with limited supply. Doctors say we still have a long way to go.

It's the tried and true method used to create flu vaccines. One that's been around for more than 50 years, and relies on chicken eggs.

"It takes millions of chicken eggs and it takes six months from start to finish for that vaccine to be completed," said Dr. Paul McGaha, Regional Director of Texas Department of State Health Services.

"This is one of the issues: It's time consuming," said Dr. Amir Shams, researcher at University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

Shams, says every second counts when it comes to pandemic outbreaks like H1N1.

"It was a very short notice."

And, he says the old egg-based technology hasn't exactly kept up with this short notice and high demand. When asked if he thinks the method works, he had two answers.

"Yes and no," he said. "Yes, in the sense it is functional, it's working. And, no, because we need more money."

The money could fund virus research and speed up vaccine production. Dr. McGaha agrees that more resources are needed, but says the government is already working to develop a cell-based technology.

"They use animal kidney cells to grow the virus and then, after they grow it, they are able to purify it and get it in the vaccine in about half the time," he explained.

This could take a few years to perfect. So, with the quick onset of H1N1, a new method was out of the question this time around.

"Unfortunately, right now we are in between the two technologies," said McGaha. "So, we are more reliant on the older egg-based technology."

For now, Dr. Shams says hens will be working over-time because the only way to make more vaccines is with more eggs. Dr. McGaha says the flu vaccine mutates every year, and a new formula is needed each time it mutates. He said researchers are working on a universal vaccine, and it would be good for 15 years.

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