JIANGSU, East China — A new vaccine-making technology can boost the effectiveness of flu shots available globally, a pharmacology professor said during a biomedicine conference Wednesday.
Ma Ningning, a professor at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in the northeastern Liaoning province, said instead of traditionally growing influenza viruses in chicken eggs, pathogens cultivated in the cells of animals — for example, dog kidneys — can produce more effective vaccines efficiently. Most flu shots currently have a 40% to 60% efficacy rate and are made with viruses grown and multiplied in fertilized chicken eggs, but the process is time consuming.
“The vaccine makers need to prepare the eggs at least six months before the shots are needed, which means they need to have the chicken ready a year in advance,” Ma said during the 2021 Nanjing International Summit on Innovation and Investment in Novel Medicine, Life Sciences and Health.
Ma said viruses grown in chicken eggs could mutate, making the final vaccine product less effective against the virus it is being used to treat.
“It’s time to move on from this 60-year-old technology to develop cell-based vaccines,” he added.
Cell-based flu shots grown in dog kidney cells were approved for use in the United States as early as 2012, though China is yet to green light such vaccines due to a lack of mature manufacturers. The eastern city of Nanjing, the site of the biomedicine conference, aims to plug manufacturing gaps by attracting billions of yuan worth of investment to build the country’s top biopharma industry.
Chinese health authorities have urged the public to get inoculated with flu vaccines, fearing that a “twindemic” — simultaneous circulation of the flu and COVID-19 among the population — could overwhelm the country’s healthcare system. But influenza vaccine uptake remains low in the country, with only about 2% to 3% of the Chinese population receiving flu shots each year, compared with 50% coverage in the U.S.
(Header image: Moment/People Visual)