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Development could double flu vaccine supply

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  • Development could double flu vaccine supply

    By Joseph Brownstein

    Scientists say they are one step closer to establishing a way to double the U.S. supply of flu vaccine, which could ward off the possibility of shortages.

    According to a new study based on a method already in use in Europe, only half the current amount of antigen ? the vaccine component that generates our immune response ? would be needed to produce the vaccines for avian and swine flu, and those vaccines' effectiveness would increase. The antigen is often the limiting factor in vaccine production.

    The scientists reduced the needed amount of antigen by adding a type of adjuvant to the vaccine. Adjuvants are compounds that increase the human immune response.

    The use of an adjuvant, however, stands to unleash the same kind of criticism from anti-vaccine groups as the addition of a preservative, thimerosal, did, despite scientific evidence showing the vaccine's safety.

    To avoid fanning public resistance to vaccine use, public health officials have called for further testing of adjuvants in high-risk groups such as young children. At the same time, some global health experts have criticized the slow adoption of adjuvants in U.S. vaccines, saying it limits the supply available to developing nations.