In the case of an influenza pandemic, the current global influenza vaccine production capacity will be unable to meet the demand for billions of vaccine doses. The ongoing threat of an H5N1 pandemic therefore urges the development of highly immunogenic, dose-sparing vaccine formulations. In unprimed individuals, inactivated whole virus (WIV) vaccines are more immunogenic and induce protective antibody responses at a lower antigen dose than other formulations like split virus (SV) or subunit (SU) vaccines. The reason for this discrepancy in immunogenicity is a long-standing enigma. Here, we show that stimulation of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) of the innate immune system, in particular stimulation of TLR7, by H5N1 WIV vaccine is the prime determinant of the greater magnitude and Th1 polarization of the WIV-induced immune response, as compared to SV- or SU-induced responses. This TLR dependency largely explains the relative loss of immunogenicity in SV and SU vaccines. The natural pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP) recognized by TLR7 is viral genomic ssRNA. Processing of whole virus particles into SV or SU vaccines destroys the integrity of the viral particle and leaves the viral RNA prone to degradation or involves its active removal. Our results show for a classic vaccine that the acquired immune response evoked by vaccination can be enhanced and steered by the innate immune system, which is triggered by interaction of an intrinsic vaccine component with a pattern recognition receptor (PRR). The insights presented here may be used to further improve the immune-stimulatory and dose-sparing properties of classic influenza vaccine formulations such as WIV, and will facilitate the development of new, even more powerful vaccines to face the next influenza pandemic.