For nearly 70 years flu vaccines have been made with the same technology: a process relying on chickens, Petri dishes, and dead viruses. Each year as flu season rolls around, so does a new flu shot.
The current development process for flu vaccines is lengthy and involves a bit of prediction. These flu vaccines are manufactured using inactivated, or a killed virus. To create these, the flu viruses are grown in chicken eggs or in cells inside a petri dish. The viruses are then killed or weakened and the resulting proteins are purified. When administered, the immune system makes antibodies against those proteins.
These vaccines take about 6 months to produce. Scientists analyze data months ahead of time to find which strains are dominating at the time in order to make a prediction of which strain will be dominant that upcoming flu season before the current flu season is even over. Then, produce a vaccine directed to fight that strain.
Although this method has produced fairly effective flu vaccines in the past, scientists hope mRNA technology could remove the need for relying on prediction. Thus creating a more highly effective flu vaccine.
The success of COVID-19 vaccines has made scientists optimistic mRNA technology could produce highly effective flu vaccines. This could change the entire manufacturing process for flu vaccines, and remove the need for such early prediction. mRNA vaccine technology could develop flu vaccines with greater effectiveness, resilience, and record times.
mRNA vaccines can teach the immune system to fight a virus without ever coming into contact with it. As we have seen with the COVID-19 vaccines, they can also generate a much stronger immune response. The manufacturing of mRNA vaccines is also simpler than the current flu vaccine manufacturing process. An mRNA vaccine can be made 8 days after the sequence of a new flu virus is known. Experts believe that a flu vaccine that is able to be produced that quickly would allow scientists to pick strains closer to actual flu season and remove the early prediction that is relied on so heavily now.
An mRNA-based vaccine could not only be more effective but would also be faster and easier to produce. Even a slightly more effective flu vaccine would be able to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Rochester Clinical Research is excited to be taking part in a Flu vaccine trial using mRNA technology. At RCR we want to create a future free of preventable disease. We strive to continue eradicating and controlling infectious diseases through vaccine development.
Sources used for this blog post are cited here:
Cassata, Cathy. “Why a New Mrna-Based Flu Vaccine May Be the Most Effective Yet.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 July 2021, www.healthline.com/health-news/why-a-new-mrna-based-flu-vaccine-may-be-the-most-effective-yet.
“New Rna Technology Could Get the Flu Vaccine Right, Every Year.” Pfizer, www.pfizer.com/news/featured_stories/featured_stories_detail/new_rna_technology_could_get_the_flu_vaccine_right_every_year.