Licensed inactivated influenza vaccines (IIV) are recommended for persons aged ≥65 years, including trivalent high-dose IIV (HD-IIV3) and adjuvanted IIV (aIIV3); both are manufactured in eggs. Quadrivalent recombinant vaccine (RIV4) is produced without eggs. We conducted an exploratory study to compare immunogenicity of HD-IIV3, aIIV3 and RIV4 against cell-grown vaccine and circulating A(H3N2) viruses in 2017-18.
Eighty-nine adults aged 65-74 years participating in a 2-year, open-label immunogenicity trial (ClinicalTrails.gov: NCT02872311) were randomized 1:1:1 to receive HD-IIV3, aIIV3, or RIV4 after receipt of standard dose IIV3 in 2016-17. Serum was obtained at baseline and day 28 post vaccination. Microneutralization titers were determined using four cell-propagated A(H3N2) viruses: 2017-18 vaccine strain (clade 3C.2a), circulating viruses from clades 3C.2a1 and 3C.2a2, and ‘antigenically advanced’ clade 3C.3a (2019-20 vaccine strain). Active surveillance was conducted to identify influenza illnesses.
Post vaccination geometric mean titer (GMT) against the vaccine strain was <1:60 in each group and <15% seroconverted. RIV4 generated a greater fold-rise (2.0, 95% CI 1.7-2.5) compared to HD-IIV3 (1.6, 95% CI 1.3-1.8). RIV4 generated higher post vaccination titers against 3C.2a1 and 3C.2a2 viruses, and the mean fold-rise after RIV4 was twice as high (3.3 and 3.5, respectively) relative to HD-IIV3 (1.4 and 1.6) and aIIV3 (1.7 and 1.6). Against the antigenically advanced 3C.3a virus, RIV4 generated a greater mean fold-rise (2.9, 95% CI 2.0-4.3) vs HD-IIV3 (1.3, 95% CI 1.1-1.6) and aIIV3 (1.7, 95% CI 1.3-2.1). Postvaccination titers against 3C.2a2 were ≥1:40 in 5 of 7 participants with PCR-confirmed A(H3N2) infection during the ensuing influenza season.
High-dose, adjuvanted, and recombinant vaccines generated suboptimal neutralizing antibody responses to the cell-grown vaccine strain, but RIV4 generated a greater cross-protective response against circulating and antigenically advanced viruses. Recombinant technology may contribute to more broadly protective influenza vaccines, and comparative effectiveness studies are needed.

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