Highly pathogenic influenza H7N9 viruses that emerged in the fifth wave of H7N9 outbreak pose a risk to human health. The World Health Organization has updated the candidate vaccine viruses for H7N9 viruses recently. In this study, we evaluated the immune response to an updated H7N9 candidate vaccine virus, which derived from the highly pathogenic A/Guangdong/17SF003/2016 (GD/16) in mice and rhesus macaques. GD/16 vaccination elicited robust neutralizing, virus-specific immunoglobulin G antibodies and effective protection, but poor hemagglutination inhibition antibody titers. Furthermore, mouse and rhesus macaque serum raised against the previous H7N9 CVV A/Anhui/1/2013 (AH/13) were tested for its cross-reactivity to GD/16 virus. We found that although AH/13-immune serum has poor hemagglutination inhibition reactivity against GD/16 virus, AH/13 elicit efficient cross-neutralizing antibodies and in vivo protection against GD/16. Further studies showed that the hemagglutinin of GD/16 has strong receptor binding avidity, which might be associated with the decreased hemagglutination inhibition assay sensitivity. This study underscores the point that receptor binding avidity should be taken into account when performing quantitative interpretation of hemagglutination inhibition data. A combination of multiple serological assays is required for accurate vaccine evaluation and antigenic analysis of influenza viruses.Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.
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