Although governments around the world have placed advance orders for a vaccine to combat a pandemic strain, existing techniques are unable to produce a vaccine at short notice.
Usually, flu vaccines are produced by culturing the virus in fertilised chicken eggs. This takes about three to six months, which would be too long for producing enough vaccine to prevent spread of the virus in a pandemic.
Researchers at the US firm Protein Sciences Corporation have developed the new technique which works by putting flu genes into a virus that infects insects. They found that by adding this altered virus to a cell culture they could quickly produce flu proteins that can be used in a vaccine.
The technique could produce a vaccine in two weeks. The company plans to offer the capacity to make six million doses of a vaccine per week in the event of a pandemic.
Other researchers have used epidemiological models to demonstrate that containing outbreaks locally could delay a pandemic, but would be highly unlikely to prevent it entirely.