Genetically Modified Flu Vaccine: Flublok

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Fall armyworm is used in the making of the Flublok. Photo by the Canadian Biodiversity

Fall armyworm is used in the making of the Flublok. Photo by the Canadian Biodiversity

Flublok, a new influenza vaccine, has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the first vaccine to include three different influenza viruses, and also unique in another way – it’s a genetically-modified vaccine.

In clinical trials, Flublok was 44.6 percent effective against all strains of influenza, not just the three in the vaccine. So how is this GMO vaccine made, and is it safe?

Flublok Ingredients

The good news is that Flublok does not contain any preservatives like thimerosal, is safe for those with egg allergies, and doesn’t use a live influenza virus. The ingredients are few and pretty straightforward. The vaccine contains proteins from three influenza viruses. The vaccine is grown in cultures that contain lipids, salts, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. Proteins from the three influenza viruses are expressed in insect cells, and then extracted, blended and added to single-dose vials. The vaccines for the 2012-2013 season contain influenza A viruses H1N1 and H3N2, and an influenza B virus.

A single dose (0.5 mg) of this vaccine contains sodium chloride, monobasic phosphate, and dibasic sodium phosphate; which are all salts. The vaccine also contains polysorbate 20, an emulsifier that keeps the vaccine ingredients from separating, and residual amounts of Triton X-100 and protein from the insect cell. Triton X-100 is a chemical used in the manufacturing process to prevent the ingredients from clumping together.

New Flu Vaccine: How it Works

This newly approved vaccine is grown using insect cells instead of a chicken egg like the standard vaccine. Protein Sciences Corporation has been working on this technique for five years, using a patented technology called the Baculovirus Expression Vector System (BEVS) Platform. This vaccine is made with genetically modified hemagglutinin antigen proteins of the influenza viruses. The hemagglutinin gene is injected into cells from the fall armyworm, which are grown in a culture to produce the protein.

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