Flu vaccine: Could faster production save lives?

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(CBS) - Works just as well in half the time! That's not a sales pitch but the word from a new study showing that a flu vaccine produced via fast methods works as well as the popular vaccines now in use.

Finding a way to speed development of flu vaccines has been a priority for scientists, especially since the swine flu scare of 2009. The government had promised to produce 160 million doses in time for flu season but was able to supply only 28 million.

In the study, published in the February issue of "The Lancet," scientists created a flu vaccine using animal cells instead of the chicken egg cells ordinarily used. Scientists say the new technique could cut weeks off of what is usually a six-month process.

The animal cell vaccine proved to be more than 70% effective at preventing flu. That's comparable to the older egg-cell style. The study concludes, "Protection afforded with egg-derived seasonal influenza vaccines also apply to this vaccine."

The animal cell vaccines won't be commercially available anytime soon, and they will never replace egg cell vaccines, Robin Robinson, director of biomedical advanced research for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the "New York Times." Scientists' ultimate goal, he said, was to find a way to produce vaccines without using any cells at all.

But with a flu pandemic always a possibility, any reduction in the wait time for vaccines could be a life-saver.


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