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The flu season is starting and peaking earlier these days. Based on the Northern Hemisphere experience, health authorities expect this year’s season will be particularly bad and are encouraging Australians, especially the vulnerable, to be vaccinated.

There’s also a new cell-based flu vaccine available, that experts hope will be more effective than the mostly egg-based vaccines many of us relied on in the past.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, ‘Cell-based’ refers to how the influenza (flu) vaccine is made. Most inactivated flu vaccines are produced by growing flu viruses in chicken embryos. The flu viruses used in the cell-based vaccines are grown in cultured cells of mammals.

The virus is not grown in the yolk of the eggs. The egg is used to create an embryo and the virus is grown on the embryo. That’s why flu vaccines can be used in people with egg allergies unless your doctor advises otherwise.

One rationale for cell-based vaccines is to overcome a dampening of the immune response to egg based vaccines. The science is complicated but it appears that as each year goes by, your immune system adapts to the egg-based vaccine, and you get a slightly lower antibody response. If you have a cell-based vaccine, there’s a slightly better antibody response.

It’s not the Australian recommendation yet, but some experts believe that when a child is having their first vaccine, they should have a cell-based vaccine so that their immune system is not primed with this egg protein.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved the vaccine for use in adults and children older than six months. It is available for at risk patients on the National Immunisation Program.

The supply and availability of the cell-based vaccine is patchy, and if only the egg-based vaccine is available, then people are encouraged to continue to get that.

It should also be noted that there are a lot of vaccines available this year and there is a stronger vaccine available for people aged 65 and over, which will ensure they get a good antibody response.


More information

Flu season: cell-based vaccine now available – Health with Dr Norman Swan. ABC Radio National

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