Author(s): Skowronski DM, Janjua NZ, De Serres G, Sabaiduc S, Eshaghi A,
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) is generally interpreted in the context of vaccine match/mismatch to circulating strains with evolutionary drift in the latter invoked to explain reduced protection. During the 2012-13 season, however, detailed genotypic and phenotypic characterization shows that low VE was instead related to mutations in the egg-adapted H3N2 vaccine strain rather than antigenic drift in circulating viruses. METHODS/FINDINGS: Component-specific VE against medically-attended, PCR-confirmed influenza was estimated in Canada by test-negative case-control design. Influenza A viruses were characterized genotypically by amino acid (AA) sequencing of established haemagglutinin (HA) antigenic sites and phenotypically through haemagglutination inhibition (HI) assay. H3N2 viruses were characterized in relation to the WHO-recommended, cell-passaged vaccine prototype (A/Victoria/361/2011) as well as the egg-adapted strain as per actually used in vaccine production. Among the total of 1501 participants, influenza virus was detected in 652 (43\%). Nearly two-thirds of viruses typed/subtyped were A(H3N2) (394/626; 63\%); the remainder were A(H1N1)pdm09 (79/626; 13\%), B/Yamagata (98/626; 16\%) or B/Victoria (54/626; 9\%). Suboptimal VE of 50\% (95\%CI: 33-63\%) overall was driven by predominant H3N2 activity for which VE was 41\% (95\%CI: 17-59\%). All H3N2 field isolates were HI-characterized as well-matched to the WHO-recommended A/Victoria/361/2011 prototype whereas all but one were antigenically distinct from the egg-adapted strain as per actually used in vaccine production. The egg-adapted strain was itself antigenically distinct from the WHO-recommended prototype, and bore three AA mutations at antigenic sites B [H156Q, G186V] and D [S219Y]. Conversely, circulating viruses were identical to the WHO-recommended prototype at these positions with other genetic variation that did not affect antigenicity. VE was 59\% (95\%CI:16-80\%) against A(H1N1)pdm09, 67\% (95\%CI: 30-85\%) against B/Yamagata (vaccine-lineage) and 75\% (95\%CI: 29-91\%) against B/Victoria (non-vaccine-lineage) viruses. CONCLUSIONS: These findings underscore the need to monitor vaccine viruses as well as circulating strains to explain vaccine performance. Evolutionary drift in circulating viruses cannot be regulated, but influential mutations introduced as part of egg-based vaccine production may be amenable to improvements.
This article was published in PLoS One
and referenced in Journal of Vaccines & Vaccination