Flu-vaccine production might be sped up by ditching the egg method in favor of methods that use cell-culture or plasmid DNA. Cell-culture methods, used for most non-flu vaccines, involve growing key antigen components in human, monkey, insect, or other animal cells in enclosed vats. For bird-flu vaccine, cell-culture would cut at least a month off the current six-to-nine month manufacturing process. It would also double or triple capacity. Several vaccine makers are moving in this direction, but it will probably take them two to five years to work out the kinks.
In five to 10 years (or possibly sooner, if the NIH puts them on a fast track), plasmid DNA methods for making flu vaccine will probably be approved. Plasmid DNA vaccines inject a person not with grown antigen, but rather with DNA that encodes the desired antigen, causing the body to build its own antigens. Test cases in animals have shown this method to be effective, quick, and remarkably safe. (In 2003, a plasmid DNA vaccination program successfully inoculated the remaining 200 California condors from West Nile Virus.) Unlike present methods, plasmid DNA vaccines offer tight matches of antigen to the target virus and at the same time can produce immunity against several viruses at once. And they can be made in large quantities in as little as a month. The main barrier to their adoption is that some problems remain in predictably translating animal test vaccines into human vaccines.