Critics say swine flu reaction shows lack of preparedness for biological attack

With H1N1 vaccinations efforts not going as smoothly as planned as lower-than-expected vaccine yields have reduced the number of doses available, questions have been raised about national preparation for biological attacks.

The initial reaction to swine flu by the government was swift, with contracts in place with five vaccine manufacturers allowing the immediate start to the process of preparing a vaccine.

The process hit a snag when the swine flu vaccine yields did not meet manufacturers' original estimates, leading to the orders by states and localities being pushed back by at least two weeks.

Problems also arose in distributing seasonal flu vaccine at the same time, with hospitals, clinics and other venues hard hit and forced to make do with what is on hand.

Critics have pointed to the United States' lack of progress in moving away from egg-based vaccine production - the United States currently operates 35 chicken farms with the sole purpose of producing eggs to be used in vaccine production - to the faster and more flexible cell-based technology.

Cell-based vaccine technology would cut production time for vaccines in half, from 20 and 23 weeks to between 12 and 14 weeks, and would result in larger amounts of vaccine per lot.

The first facility able to utilize such technology is not expected to come online until next month and not expected to be able to manufacture U.S. licensed flu vaccine until 2011. That facility is part of a five year, $5.6 billion pandemic preparedness plan by the Department of Health and Human Services.