WMP NOTE: After the recent media uproar about the CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation, which focused on the inappropriateness of her ownership in tobacco stock, the WMP team decided to investigate further. What we uncovered is new technology that utilizes tobacco leaves to produce vaccines in a much shorter time frame and clinical trials are already underway using this new technology to produce flu vaccines here in the US. So maybe Fitzgerald’s stocks had nothing to do with smoking tobacco cessation and everything to do with vaccine production?
By nearly everyone’s admission, this year’s influenza vaccine has been a colossal flop. In any given year, flu shot effectiveness in the United States varies widely anyway, but this year’s estimates point to rock-bottom effectiveness of 10%. The previous low over the past five years was an estimated 19% for the 2014-2015 influenza season, when public health researchers concluded that the shot “offered little protection” against the predominant influenza strain. (This does not even take into account research showing that individuals who get the flu shot year after year have diminished protection and are at greater risk of spreading the flu to others.) The figure below shows the flu vaccine’s inconsistent levels of effectiveness since 2004.
Influenza vaccine effectiveness, 2004-2017 (Source: CDC)
Pharmaceutical companies and public health officials acknowledge the issue of “suboptimal” influenza vaccine effectiveness and blame it on a variety of factors, including the conventional flu vaccine production process that uses eggs or cultured mammalian cells and requires a six-month lead time. With the exponential growth of the biotechnology industry, a search has been underway to genetically engineer vaccines that are less cumbersome and more cost-effective to make.
…interest in molecular farming strategies has skyrocketed in the past decade alongside the push to develop ever more vaccines.
The emerging technology of plant-based vaccine production, or “molecular farming,” inserts viral vectors that contain specific genetic information into plants; these genetic instructions tell the plants to produce target proteins that later are harvested to make vaccines. This is called recombinant protein production. Although initial attempts to produce vaccines in plants date back to the early 1990s, interest in molecular farming strategies has skyrocketed in the past decade alongside the push to develop ever more vaccines.
The pivotal role of military dollars
Interestingly, one of the parties most invested in the plant-based model of vaccine production is the US military. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded trials that showed plant-based vaccine production to be capable of making 10 million doses of flu vaccine in 30 days while bearing infrastructure costs that reportedly were 10 times lower than for other vaccine manufacturing methods. DARPA was enthusiastic about these results.