Background: Multiple cases of transmission of avian H5N1 influenza viruses to humans illustrate the urgent need for an efficacious, cross-protective vaccine.
Methods: Ferrets were immunized with inactivated whole-virus vaccine produced by reverse genetics with the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase genes of A/HK/213/03 virus. Ferrets received a single dose of vaccine (7 or 15 microg of HA) with aluminum hydroxide adjuvant or 2 doses (7 microg of HA each) without adjuvant and were challenged with 10(6) 50% egg infectious doses of A/HK/213/03, A/HK/156/97, or A/Vietnam/1203/04 virus.
Results: One or 2 doses of vaccine induced a protective antibody response to the vaccine strain. All immunization regimens completely protected ferrets from challenge with homologous wild-type A/HK/213/03 virus: no clinical signs of infection were observed, virus replication was significantly reduced (P<.05) and was restricted to the upper respiratory tract, and spread of virus to the brain was prevented. Importantly, all vaccinated ferrets were protected against lethal challenge with the highly pathogenic strain A/Vietnam/1203/04. The 2-dose schedule induced higher levels of antibodies that were cross-reactive to antigenically distinct H5N1 viruses.
Conclusions: H5N1 vaccines may stimulate an immune response that is more cross-protective than what might be predicted by in vitro assays and, thus, hold potential for being stockpiled as "initial" pandemic vaccines.