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Inside the factory where millions of eggs are thrown into action to avoid a winter health crisis

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Four gigantic lorries drive like clockwork every morning into the loading bays of the Seqirus vaccine factory in Liverpool. Aboard a precious cargo – 575,000 chicken eggs in which lies the nation’s seasonal safety.

This daily delivery is the crucial first step in creating the flu vaccine that will protect the public and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed by flu and Covid-19 – and the Mail is the first to put the inside of the factory at the center of see all this.

This winter threatens to be the worst flu season in recent years, with up to 60,000 deaths predicted as flu immunity diminishes and a possible third wave of Covid could derail an already weakened health service.

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, warned this week that flu poses a “significant health risk” as it will circulate with Covid-19 as the cold weather causes an increase in people mixing indoors.

The eggs are washed, sorted and incubated in a series of 37 chambers, each containing 172,000 fertilized eggs. They are kept under strictly controlled conditions for 11 days to create the perfect environment for a virus to reproduce. The eggs are stored on racks that change inclination every hour and remain at a precise temperature of 37.5c (99.5f) and 65 percent humidity – the ideal conditions for their embryos to develop

The eggs are then ready for the production line, which scans 132 eggs at a time and discards the infertile eggs - 45,000 a day - before pricking them with a needle containing 0.2 ml of 'working seed', a solution containing the active flu virus, grown in labs.  After this, the flu virus starts to multiply within the shell

The eggs are then ready for the production line, which scans 132 eggs at a time and discards the infertile eggs – 45,000 a day – before pricking them with a needle containing 0.2 ml of ‘working seed’, a solution containing the active flu virus, grown in labs. After this, the flu virus starts to multiply within the shell

Imperfections are avoided throughout the process by randomly examining the eggs in a process called

Imperfections are avoided throughout the process by randomly examining the eggs in a process called “candling,” in which experts use ultraviolet probes to check if an egg is still fertile. Infertile eggs are thrown away as soon as they are discovered

After 72 hours of incubation, the eggs are blast chilled to ensure that the embryo stops growing.  The virus-filled eggs now arrive at a harvest line, where a huge machine uses a knife to cut off the top of each eggshell.  Probes extract some of the egg's clear fluid known as allantoic fluid — which now contains thousands of copies of the flu virus

After 72 hours of incubation, the eggs are blast chilled to ensure that the embryo stops growing. The virus-filled eggs now arrive at a harvest line, where a huge machine uses a knife to cut off the top of each eggshell. Probes extract some of the egg’s clear fluid known as allantoic fluid — which now contains thousands of copies of the flu virus

Redding comes in a small syringe containing 0.5ml of vaccine that begins its journey to the patient at an 18-acre factory in a hinterland of factories and warehouses in south Liverpool.

At peak production, it has 6.1 million eggs in various stages of vaccine development, with 650 employees working around the clock on the front lines of the flu.

Fertilized chicken eggs are an ideal medium to grow the virus strains that are the vital components of an effective vaccine.

At the Seqirus plant, they have ramped up production to such a level that it will ship up to 30 million doses this year to immunize the UK.

All over 65s get egg-based vaccines because they can carry the adjuvant that promotes a better immune response. However, vegans can ask for cell-generated pricks.

“The scale is amazing,” said Alan Collins, process leader of the primary incubation unit.

“Every part of the process has to work perfectly to ensure we can deliver enough vaccine to keep the nation safe. It’s a complex and demanding production line, but I enjoy going to work every day because we help protect lives.’

Seqirus recently invested £50 million in manufacturing facilities and hired 120 new employees.

The virus is then inactivated with formaldehyde and the solution is purified with a centrifuge.  The remaining solution contains the virus antigen.  This triggers a human immune response to the infection without causing disease.  Seqirus produces four strains of the virus, identified by the World Health Organization in February, and mixes them together to form a quadrivalent vaccine (above) to protect patients against the four different strains of the flu virus.

The virus is then inactivated with formaldehyde and the solution is purified with a centrifuge. The remaining solution contains the virus antigen. This triggers a human immune response to the infection without causing disease. Seqirus produces four strains of the virus, identified by the World Health Organization in February, and mixes them together to form a quadrivalent vaccine (above) to protect patients against the four different strains of the flu virus.

The complete vaccine solution is collected in giant 500 liter bags.  This sterile machine then fills syringes at high speeds

The complete vaccine solution is collected in giant 500 liter bags. This sterile machine then fills syringes at high speeds

The solution is measured and placed in 0.5 ml syringes before the vaccine batches are thoroughly checked by workers in the production facility

The solution is measured and placed in 0.5 ml syringes before the vaccine batches are thoroughly checked by workers in the production facility

The finished product is distributed to doctors and pharmacists across the country

The finished product is distributed to doctors and pharmacists across the country

“We are quality controlled at every stage,” said John Riley, leader of the formulation process.

“Each 500 liter batch we produce contains 900,000 vaccines, so that’s 900,000 lives we’re protecting and we don’t want anything to go wrong.”

Raja Rajaram, head of medical affairs at Seqirus, added: ‘This is an important flu season and vaccine uptake will be crucial to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed this winter.

“Last year we had virtually no flu – but now that we’ve been released from the lockdowns, we’re more free to deal with people who go back to offices and start traveling. The vaccine will play a major role in reducing the burden on the NHS.”

The flu vaccine can be given at the same time as a Covid booster shot.

Public Health England is aiming to improve the record 80.9 percent coverage of over-65s from last winter to 85 percent this season as part of the UK’s largest flu vaccination program ever.

The shot is also offered to people over 50 and younger children.

Millions will get their shots this month when flu season kicks off — but many won’t know that the flu shot program owes its success to the simple egg.

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