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Despite egg-adaptive mutations, the 2012-13 H3N2 influenza vaccine induced comparable antibody titers to the intended strain

By Sarah Cobey, Kaela Parkhouse, Benjamin S. Chambers, Hildegund C Ertl, Kenneth E. Schmader, Rebecca A Halpin, Xudong Lin, Timothy B. Stockwell, Suman Das, Emily Landon, Vera Tesic, Ilan Youngster, Benjamin Pinsky, David E Wentworth, Scott E. Hensley, Yonatan Grad

Posted 05 Jul 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/158550

Background: Influenza vaccination aims to prevent infection by influenza virus and reduce associated morbidity and mortality; however, vaccine effectiveness (VE) can be modest, especially for subtype A/H3N2. Failure to achieve consistently high VE has been attributed both to mismatches between the vaccine and circulating influenza strains and to the vaccine's elicitation of protective immunity in only a subset of the population. The low H3N2 VE in 2012-13 was attributed to egg-adaptive mutations that created antigenic mismatch between the intended (A/Victoria/361/2011) and actual vaccine strain (IVR-165). Methods: We investigate the basis of the low VE in 2012-2013 by evaluating whether vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals were infected by different viral strains and assessing the serologic responses to A/Victoria/361/2011 and the IVR-165 vaccine strain in an adult cohort before and after vaccination. Results: We found no significant genetic differences between the strains that infected vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Vaccination increased titers to A/Victoria/361/2011 as much as to IVR-165. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that vaccination served merely to boost preexisting cross-reactive immune responses, which provided limited protection against infection with the circulating influenza strains. Conclusions: In contrast to suggestive analyses based on ferret antisera, low H3N2 VE in 2012-13 does not appear to be due to the failure of the egg-adapted strain to induce a response to the intended vaccine strain. Instead, low VE might have been caused by the emergence of antigenically novel influenza strains and low vaccine immunogenicity in a subset of the population.

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