A(H3N2) influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) was low during the 2016–19 seasons and varied by age. We analyzed neutralizing antibody responses to egg- and cell-propagated A(H3N2) vaccine and circulating viruses following vaccination in 375 individuals (aged 7 months to 82 years) across all vaccine-eligible age groups in 3 influenza seasons. Antibody responses to cell- versus egg-propagated vaccine viruses were significantly reduced due to the egg-adapted changes T160K, D225G, and L194P in the vaccine hemagglutinins. Vaccine egg adaptation had a differential impact on antibody responses across the different age groups. Immunologically naive children immunized with egg-adapted vaccines mostly mounted antibodies targeting egg-adapted epitopes, whereas those previously primed with infection produced broader responses even when vaccinated with egg-based vaccines. In the elderly, repeated boosts of vaccine egg-adapted epitopes significantly reduced antibody responses to the WT cell–grown viruses. Analysis with reverse genetic viruses suggested that the response to each egg-adapted substitution varied by age. No differences in antibody responses were observed between male and female vaccinees. Here, the combination of age-specific responses to vaccine egg-adapted substitutions, diverse host immune priming histories, and virus antigenic drift affected antibody responses following vaccination and may have led to the low and variable VE against A(H3N2) viruses across different age groups.


Feng Liu, F. Liaini Gross, Stacie N. Jefferson, Crystal Holiday, Yaohui Bai, Li Wang, Bin Zhou, Min Z. Levine


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