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Flu deaths in Oklahoma climb by six, state officials say

The Oklahoma Health Department reported that six more flu-related deaths occurred last week, all in Oklahomans 65 and older.
By Jaclyn Cosgrove jcosgrove@opubco.com Modified: January 24, 2013 at 9:57 pm •  Published: January 24, 2013
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This month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved FluBlok, a trivalent flu vaccine made using insect cells. A trivalent vaccine is a vaccine with three components.

FluBlok represents a shift in the way flu shots are made. The flu shot that's widely available this flu season was made by growing the flu virus in eggs. This is a process that can take up to six months sometimes, not ideal if the U.S. were to face a flu pandemic.

But FluBlok uses insect cells to create a vaccine. Although the technology is new to flu vaccine production, it is used to make vaccines that have been approved by the FDA to prevent other infectious diseases, according to the FDA.

“This approval represents a technological advance in the manufacturing of an influenza vaccine,” Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a news release. “The new technology offers the potential for faster startup of the vaccine manufacturing process in the event of a pandemic, because it is not dependent on an egg supply or on availability of the influenza virus.”

Less effective option

When studied, FluBlok was found to be about 44.6 percent effective against all circulating influenza strains, not just the strains that matched the strains included in the vaccine, according to the FDA.

Professor Gillian Air, who has studied the flu for the past 30 years, said FluBlok seems less effective than other vaccines, but apparently not enough to concern the FDA.

There's a movement to get away from eggs and use something that would speed up flu vaccine production said Air, a professor in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

But it's still unknown how quickly the company that produces FluBlok will be able to produce the shot, she said.

“Until it's on the market, we really don't know,” Air said. “They've made trial batches, and they've tested them extensively in 2,000 people, but that's not quite the same as making a vaccine for the entire country.”