Egg-free, mercury-free flu vaccine approved

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The vaccine-fearing crowd has one less reason to say no to flu shots: the FDA approved a flu vaccine Thursday that's mercury- and egg-free. Instead, the Flublok vaccine, made by Protein Sciences in Connecticut, consists of saltwater and the virus protein – not the virus itself.

“We don't have any of the stuff in our vaccine that you don't need,” executive chairman and global head of business development Daniel Adams, told MM&M.

The FDA has yet to approve the marketing materials, so Adams was unable to discuss its impending campaign, but said the company should have close to 150,000 doses available for this flu season and expects to land a 50-plus indication by midsummer, which would expand its potential patient population.

Though slowed by close to 20 years of development, the vaccine is poised to capitalize on consumer awareness about allergens, despite assurances from ACIP as recently as 2011 that indicated egg-based vaccines could be safe for patients with an allergy as long as the vaccine contained an inactive form of the virus. Adams said that although Flublok will not overtake the bigger vaccine producers, it can expand the vaccine marketplace by providing an alternative that is in demand. Adams said egg-based vaccine makers are communicating the safety message, but “Physicians we talk to say ‘why would you take any risk?'”

At the same time, the vaccine could also be set to tap into a farm-to-table mindset. “If you look at people's awareness of what's going on in their bodies, people are much more ‘Hey, what's in here? Do I need the stuff that's in here to protect me from the flu or not?'” Adams said.

Getting people vaccinated against the flu is an annual struggle and the CDC is urging consumers to get vaccinated. The most recent CDC data indicates pneumonia and influenza caused 1.7% of the deaths recorded in its mortality reporting system for the week ended January 5, pushing it into the category of an epidemic. Meanwhile, Google's compilation of flu-related searches shows a nationwide deluge of searches, with differences in search concerns ranging from High (California) to Intense (much of the country).

Despite rising illness rates and concern about the flu, the majority of adults do not get the flu vaccine for one reason: the sense that it's a hit or miss proposition that's not worth the effort, according to a 2010 study by the Rand think tank. Adams said that here, too, his company has an edge: instead of needing time to cultivate the virus and create a vaccine, he said his team just has to plug in the CDC-published generic code for the virus to get things going. This means if the initial vaccine roll out ends up not hitting the right protective notes, the ramp-up time for creating new iterations is much shorter. “We could be months faster than any process that uses a live flu virus," he said.
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