After avian influenza (AI) vaccination, hens will produce progeny chickens with maternally derived AI-specific antibodies. In the present study we examined the effect of maternal immunity in young chickens on the protection against highly pathogenic AI H5N1 virus infection and on the effectiveness of AI vaccination. The mean haemagglutination inhibition antibody titre in sera of 14-day-old progeny chickens was approximately eight-fold lower than the mean titre in sera of vaccinated hens. After H5N1 infection at the age of 14 days, chickens with maternal antibody titres lived a few days longer than control chickens. However, only a low proportion of chickens with maternal immunity survived challenge with H5N1. In most progeny chickens with maternal immunity, high virus titres (104 median embryo infective dose) were present in the trachea during the first 4 days after H5N1 infection. In the cloaca, only low virus titres were present in most chickens. In 14-day-old progeny chickens with maternal immunity, the induction of antibody titres by vaccination was severely inhibited, with only a few chickens showing responses similar to the control chickens. It is concluded that high maternal antibody titres are required for clinical protection and reduction of virus titres after infection of chickens, whereas low antibody titres already interfere with vaccine efficacy.