Primary vaccine failure to routine vaccines: Why and what to do?

Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2016;12(1):239-43. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2015.1093263.


There are 2 major factors responsible for vaccine failures, the first is vaccine-related such as failures in vaccine attenuation, vaccination regimes or administration. The other is host-related, of which host genetics, immune status, age, health or nutritional status can be associated with primary or secondary vaccine failures. The first describes the inability to respond to primary vaccination, the latter is characterized by a loss of protection after initial effectiveness. Our studies concentrate on the evaluation of immunological characteristics responsible for primary vaccine failures in different (risk) populations for which the underlying mechanisms are currently unknown. Here we summarise current knowledge and findings from our studies. About 2-10% of healthy individuals fail to mount antibody levels to routine vaccines. Comparing the immune responses to different vaccines in non-responder and high-responder vaccinees revealed that hypo-responsiveness is antigen/vaccine-specific at the humoral but not at the cellular level. We found that T-regulatory as well as B-regulatory cells and the production of IL-10 are involved in non/hypo-responsiveness. Non-responsiveness increases with age and in particular vaccination to a novel vaccine in persons > 65 years is associated with a high low/non-responder rate, indicating that vaccine schedules and doses (at least for primary vaccination) should be adapted according to age. In light of the growing number of allergic but also obese people, our current studies concentrate on these risk groups to reveal whether different vaccination approaches are necessary for optimal protection compared to healthy individuals. These studies are in line with the significant paradigm shift taking place in many fields of medical research and care, and will extend the concept of personalised medicine into the field of vaccinology.

Keywords: antibody; failure; immunisation; personalised; protection; response; vaccination; vaccinology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-10 / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology
  • Treatment Failure
  • Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Vaccines / immunology*


  • IL10 protein, human
  • Vaccines
  • Interleukin-10