Successes and failures of the live-attenuated influenza vaccine, can we do better?

Laura Matrajt, M. Elizabeth Halloran, Rustom Antia

Clinical Infectious Diseases

May 6, 2019


Live-attenuated vaccines are usually highly effective against many acute viral infections. However, the effective- ness of the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) can vary widely, ranging from 0% effectiveness in some studies done in the United States to 50% in studies done in Europe. The reasons for these discrepancies remain largely unclear. In this paper we use mathematical models to explore how the efficacy of LAIV is affected by the degree of mismatch with the currently circulating influenza strain and interference with pre-existing immunity. The model incorporates two key antigenic distances - the distance between pre-existing immunity and the currently circulating strain as well as the LAIV strain. Our models show that a LAIV that is matched with the currently circulating strain is likely to have only modest efficacy. Our results suggest that the efficacy of the vaccine would be increased (optimized) if, rather than being matched to the circulating strain, it is antigenically slightly further from pre-existing immunity compared with the circulating strain. The models also suggest two regimes in which LAIV that is matched to circulating strains may provide effective protection. The first is in children before they have built immunity from circulating strains. The second is in response to novel strains (such as antigenic shifts) which are at substantial antigenic distance from previously circulating strains. Our models provide an explanation for the variation in vaccine effectiveness, both between children and adults as well as between studies of vaccine effectiveness observed during the 2014-15 influenza season in different countries.