Rapidly produced flu vaccine may be safe, effective

A flu vaccine that is produced through faster methods may be as safe and effective as traditional flu vaccines, a new study has revealed.

Dr. Sharon Frey of the St. Louis University Medical School, told Reuters that traditional flu vaccines are produced by using chicken eggs to grow the virus, which is a slow process that makes speedy production during pandemics, like the 2009 swine flu outbreak, next to impossible.

Frey and colleagues recently tested the effectiveness of a flu vaccine made by Novartis called Optaflu. Optaflu, which has already been approved in Europe, is produced using dog kidney cells, according to Frey. To date, Optaflu has not been approved in the U.S.

Researchers tested the vaccine's effectiveness on 11,400 healthy adults under 50 years of age from the U.S., Finland and Poland, Reuters reports. Frey and colleagues randomly assigned the volunteers to receive the Optaflu vaccine, a standard egg-based flu shot or a placebo shot during the 2007-2008 flu season.

Frey reported the Optaflu vaccine was 84 percent effective against the three flu strains included in the shot as opposed to the conventional vaccine, which was only 78 percent effective.

The cell-based flu vaccine has other advantages in addition to more efficient production, Frey told Reuters, adding that it is safe for people with egg allergies. Frey also noted that Optaflu does not contain the preservative thimerosal, which some people erroneously believe is linked to autism.

Frey’s study was funded by Novartis.

Dr. David Bernstein, who wrote an editorial published with Frey’s study, told Reuters he was optimistic about the vaccine. He noted, however, that there will still be obstacles to overcome, including the general lack of experience in using the production system and the need to build expensive new manufacturing facilities.