Studies in the 1970s and 1980s signaled concern that repeated influenza vaccination could affect vaccine protection. The antigenic distance hypothesis provided a theoretical framework to explain variability in repeat vaccination effects based on antigenic similarity between successive vaccine components and the epidemic strain. Areas covered: A meta-analysis of vaccine effectiveness studies from 2010-11 through 2014-15 shows substantial heterogeneity in repeat vaccination effects within and between seasons and subtypes. When negative effects were observed, they were most pronounced for H3N2, especially in 2014-15 when vaccine components were unchanged and antigenically distinct from the epidemic strain. Studies of repeated vaccination across multiple seasons suggest that vaccine effectiveness may be influenced by more than one prior season. In immunogenicity studies, repeated vaccination blunts the hemagglutinin antibody response, particularly for H3N2. Expert commentary: Substantial heterogeneity in repeated vaccination effects is not surprising given the variation in study populations and seasons, and the variable effects of antigenic distance and immunological landscape in different age groups and populations. Caution is required in the interpretation of pooled results across multiple seasons, since this can mask important variation in repeat vaccination effects between seasons. Multi-season clinical studies are needed to understand repeat vaccination effects and guide recommendations.
Keywords: Influenza; effectiveness; efficacy; immunogenicity; meta-analysis; recurrent; repeat; vaccine.