Age-specific effects of vaccine egg-adaptation and immune priming on A(H3N2) antibody responses following influenza vaccination

A(H3N2) Influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) were low during 2016-2019 seasons and varied by age. We analyzed neutralizing antibody responses to egg- and cell-propagated 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- compared to egg-propagated vaccine viruses were significantly reduced due to egg-adapted changes T160K, D225G, and L194P in the vaccine hemagglutinins. Vaccine egg-adaptation had differential impact on antibody responses across 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 elderly, repeated boost of vaccine egg-adapted epitopes significantly reduced antibody responses to the wild type cell-grown viruses. Analysis with reverse genetics viruses suggested that the response to each egg-adapted substitution varied by age. Antibody responses did not differ in male versus female vaccinees. Here, the combination of age-specific responses to vaccine egg-adapted substitutions, diverse host immune priming histories and virus antigenic drift impacted antibody responses following vaccination and may have led to the low and variable VE against A(H3N2) viruses across different age groups.