The October 5 announcement by the Chiron Corporation that it could not ship nearly half the US supply of influenza vaccine has trained a spotlight on the vaccine production process. The ensuing public frenzy was abetted by a frightening flu season last year, stronger CDC recommendations on infant immunization, the looming threat of avian flu, and a harder push from public health groups for vulnerable populations to get immunized.

The shortage, say experts, illustrates the drawbacks of relying on chicken eggs to produce a hundred million doses of influenza vaccine each year, and the weakness of the existing supply system. Government and industry are scrambling to find alternatives to the egg method, and while these hold promise for shortening the production cycle and adding "surge capacity," it's not clear if the fundamental change experts say is needed to truly address the system's weaknesses will take place. "It's a wakeup call...

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