Tenforde, M.W., Kondor, R.J.G., Chung, J.R., Zimmerman, R.K., Nowalk, M.P., Jackson, M.L., Jackson, L.A., Monto, A.S., Martin, E.T., Belongia, E.A., McLean, H.Q., Gaglani, M., Rao, A., Kim, S.S., Stark, T.J., Barnes, J.R., Wentworth, D., Patel, M.M. and Flannery, B. (2020). “Effect of antigenic drift on influenza vaccine effectiveness in the United States – 2019-2020.” Clin Infect Dis Dec 25;ciaa1884. [Epub ahead of print].
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BACKGROUND: At the start of the 2019-2020 influenza season, concern arose that circulating B/Victoria viruses of the globally emerging clade V1A.3 were antigenically drifted from the strain included in the vaccine. Intense B/Victoria activity was followed by circulation of genetically diverse A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, that were also antigenically drifted. We measured vaccine effectiveness (VE) in the United States against illness from these emerging viruses. METHODS: We enrolled outpatients aged ≥6 months with acute respiratory illness at five sites. Respiratory specimens were tested for influenza by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Using the test-negative design, we determined influenza VE by virus sub-type/lineage and genetic subclades by comparing odds of vaccination in influenza cases versus test-negative controls. RESULTS: Among 8,845 enrollees, 2,722 (31%) tested positive for influenza, including 1,209 (44%) for B/Victoria and 1,405 (51%) for A(H1N1)pdm09. Effectiveness against any influenza illness was 39% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 32-44), 45% (95%CI: 37-52) against B/Victoria and 30% (95%CI: 21-39) against A(H1N1)pdm09 associated illness. Vaccination offered no protection against A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses with antigenically drifted clade 6B.1A 183P-5A+156K HA genes (VE 7%; 95%CI: -14 to 23%) which predominated after January. CONCLUSIONS: Vaccination provided protection against influenza illness, mainly due to infections from B/Victoria viruses. Vaccine protection against illness from A(H1N1)pdm09 was lower than historically observed effectiveness of 40-60%, due to late-season vaccine mismatch following emergence of antigenically drifted viruses. The effect of drift on vaccine protection is not easy to predict and, even in drifted years, significant protection can be observed.