The current limitations of vaccine-manufacturing technology are among the biggest lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 flu, says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Speaking to public health professionals this week, she described what she wants instead: "A modernized countermeasure production process where we have more promising discoveries, more advanced development, more robust manufacturing, better stockpiling, and more advanced distribution practices."
That's one tall order. And it's in some ways reminiscent of last century's technology mandate that put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon (see related editorial). Sebelius has started a fast-track review of the existing "safe but outdated" processes and promises to implement identified improvements. She wants to be able to develop, produce and deliver a vaccine within weeks.
"We were fighting the flu with vaccine technology from the 1950s," she says. "We could hurry to develop a vaccine candidate, verify its safety, and clear production facilities, but there was nothing we could do to make the vaccine grow faster in eggs."
- see Sebelius's remarks