Enhanced Genetic Characterization of Influenza A(H3N2) Viruses and Vaccine Effectiveness by Genetic Group, 2014–2015

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Background. During the 2014–2015 US influenza season, expanded genetic characterization of circulating influenza A(H3N2) viruses was used to assess the impact of the genetic variability of influenza A(H3N2) viruses on influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE).Methods. A novel pyrosequencing assay was used to determine genetic group, based on hemagglutinin (HA) gene sequences, of influenza A(H3N2) viruses from patients enrolled at US Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network sites. VE was estimated using a test-negative design comparing vaccination among patients infected with influenza A(H3N2) viruses and uninfected patients.Results. Among 9710 enrollees, 1868 (19%) tested positive for influenza A(H3N2) virus; genetic characterization of 1397 viruses showed that 1134 (81%) belonged to 1 HA genetic group (3C.2a) of antigenically drifted influenza A(H3N2) viruses. Effectiveness of 2014–2015 influenza vaccination varied by influenza A(H3N2) virus genetic group from 1% (95% confidence interval [CI], −14% to 14%) against illness caused by antigenically drifted influenza A(H3N2) virus group 3C.2a viruses versus 44% (95% CI, 16%–63%) against illness caused by vaccine-like influenza A(H3N2) virus group 3C.3b viruses.Conclusions. Effectiveness of 2014–2015 influenza vaccination varied by genetic group of influenza A(H3N2) virus. Changes in HA genes related to antigenic drift were associated with reduced VE.

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