Scientists Worried About Bird Flu Vaccine Development As Cases Rise In Farm Animals Across US 

The avian flu virus has been taking out flocks of birds and infecting other animals, mainly on farms, throughout the US. According to reports from CBS, there are cattle in at least nine states that have been infected, as well as two people. While the two individuals only suffered from pink eye and quickly recovered, the spreading is relatively unheard of, raising concerns of another global pandemic. 

Scientists are particularly concerned about the millions of fertilized hen eggs that are needed to make vaccines, in the case that there’s a larger outbreak of a new flu strain. 

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“It’s almost comical to be using 1940s technology for a 21st-century pandemic,” said Rick Bright, who led the Health and Human Services Department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

“It’s not so funny when the currently stockpiled formulation against the H5N1 bird flu virus requires two shots and a whopping 90 micrograms of antigen, yet provides just middling immunity. For the U.S. alone, it would take hens laying 900,000 eggs every single day for nine months,” Bright said.

The raw material utilized for an influenza vaccine derives from the virus being grown within fertilized eggs. The birds themselves need to not be infected, and there’s always a chance that the virus won’t grow well, or well grow in a mutated form that would make it ineffective. 

“Everyone knows cell-based vaccines are better, more immunogenic, and offer better production. But they are handicapped because of the clout of egg-based manufacturing,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. 

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“The companies that make the cell-based influenza vaccines, CSL Seqirus and Sanofi, also have billions invested in egg-based production lines that they aren’t eager to replace. And it’s hard to blame them,” said Nicole Lurie, an executive director of CEPI, the global epidemic-fighting nonprofit.

“Most vaccine companies that responded to an epidemic — Ebola, Zika, COVID — ended up losing a lot of money on it,” Lurie said.

CBS reported that Adalja said “the vaccines currently in the national stockpile are not a perfect match for the strain in question. Even with two shots containing six times as much vaccine substance as typical flu shots, the stockpiled vaccines were only partly effective against strains of the virus that circulated when those vaccines were made.” 

“Flu vaccine companies have a system that works well right now to accomplish their objectives in manufacturing the seasonal vaccine. And without a financial incentive, we are going to be here with eggs for a while, I think,” Boucher said.