Role of vaccination-induced immunity and antigenic distance in the transmission dynamics of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 epidemics in poultry cause huge economic losses as well as sporadic human morbidity and mortality. Vaccination in poultry has often been reported as being ineffective in preventing transmission and as a potential driving force in the selection of immune escape mutants. We conducted transmission experiments to evaluate the transmission dynamics of HPAI H5N1 strains in chickens vaccinated with high and low doses of immune escape mutants we have previously selected, and analysed the data using mathematical models. Remarkably, we demonstrate that the effect of antigenic distances between the vaccine and challenge strains used in this study is too small to influence the transmission dynamics of the strains used. This is because the effect of a sufficient vaccine dose on antibody levels against the challenge viruses is large enough to compensate for any decrease in antibody titres due to antigenic differences between vaccine and challenge strains. Our results show that at least under experimental conditions, vaccination will remain effective even after antigenic changes as may be caused by the initial selection in vaccinated birds.
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