Kankakee facility on front line of flu fight

KANKAKEE, Ill. (WLS) -- Inside the CSL Behring building in Kankakee, Ill., the assembly line is humming. They're creating a seemingly endless supply of flu vaccine syringes.

CSL Behring is one of the world's biggest producers of the influenza vaccines. A new fight starts each year.

"It's a long manufacturing process so we start in January for a supply well ahead of the influenza season. So we're supplying throughout the fall," Sr. VP Steve Marlow, VP CSL Behring Kankakee, said.

Every February the World Health Organization names the flu strains it expects for the coming year. Then vaccine production ramps up. For CSL, that happens at its main base in Australia. The vaccine is then flown to Kankakee where it's readied for delivery.

"We kind of have production targets in mind and it's true, sometimes late in the season there's a bump in demand. And, sometimes, like this year, there's a little less demand. So yes, it's hard to predict," Dr. Chip Altman, BioCSL Medical Affairs, said.

This year this facility will crank out 13 million flu vaccine syringes, and the science behind producing that volume requires automated inspection. A machine with 15 cameras checks every syringe for volume, particulate matter, and possible flaws in the glass or the stopper. The machine kicks out any bad ones.

"The rate on the automated inspection machine is 400 syringes per minute. We do have semi-automated process but they are twenty syringes per minute," Daniel Ball, inspector manager, said.

What's prepared, labeled, and packaged in Kankakee then makes its way to the front lines by fall for the flu fight. Every season, it's a little different.

"Some years the very young are affected. Some years the very elderly, and some years that middle population. So it keeps us on our toes," Altman said.

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