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The Canadian Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance Network reports vaccine effectiveness (VE) for the 2018/19 influenza A(H3N2) epidemic.


To explain a paradoxical signal of increased clade 3C.3a risk among 35–54-year-old vaccinees, we hypothesise childhood immunological imprinting and a cohort effect following the 1968 influenza A(H3N2) pandemic.


We assessed VE by test-negative design for influenza A(H3N2) overall and for co-circulating clades 3C.2a1b and 3C.3a. VE variation by age in 2018/19 was compared with amino acid variation in the haemagglutinin glycoprotein by year since 1968.


Influenza A(H3N2) VE was 17% (95% CI: −13 to 39) overall: 27% (95% CI: −7 to 50) for 3C.2a1b and −32% (95% CI: −119 to 21) for 3C.3a. Among 20–64-year-olds, VE was −7% (95% CI: −56 to 26): 6% (95% CI: −49 to 41) for 3C.2a1b and −96% (95% CI: −277 to −2) for 3C.3a. Clade 3C.3a VE showed a pronounced negative dip among 35–54-year-olds in whom the odds of medically attended illness were > 4-fold increased for vaccinated vs unvaccinated participants (p < 0.005). This age group was primed in childhood to influenza A(H3N2) viruses that for two decades following the 1968 pandemic bore a serine at haemagglutinin position 159, in common with contemporary 3C.3a viruses but mismatched to 3C.2a vaccine strains instead bearing tyrosine.


Imprinting by the first childhood influenza infection is known to confer long-lasting immunity focused toward priming epitopes. Our findings suggest vaccine mismatch may negatively interact with imprinted immunity. The immunological mechanisms for imprint-regulated effect of vaccine (I-REV) warrant investigation.


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