Annual vaccination of healthy children >6 months of age against seasonal influenza has been recommended by public health authorities of some countries. However, currently used seasonal vaccines provide only limited protection against (potentially) pandemic influenza viruses. Furthermore, we recently hypothesized that annual vaccination may hamper the development of cross-reactive immunity against influenza A viruses of novel subtypes, that would otherwise be induced by natural infection. Here we summarize our findings in animal models in which we demonstrated that vaccination against influenza A/H3N2 virus reduced the induction of heterosubtypic immunity against highly pathogenic avian influenza A/H5N1 virus, otherwise induced by a prior infection with influenza A/H3N2 virus. The reduction of heterosubtypic immunity correlated with reduced virus-specific CD8+ T cell responses. An additional study was performed in humans, in which we collected peripheral blood mononuclear cells from annually vaccinated children with cystic fibrosis (CF) and age-matched unvaccinated healthy control children to study the virus-specific T cell response. An age-related increase of the virus-specific CD8+ T cell response was observed in unvaccinated children that was absent in vaccinated children with CF. These findings highlight the importance of the development of vaccines that provide protection against influenza A viruses of all subtypes.
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