Vaccination with inactivated virus against low pathogenic avian influenza subtype H9N2 does not prevent virus transmission in chickens

Cui, Hongrui; Jong, Mart C.M. de; Beerens, Nancy; Oers, Monique M. van; Teng, Qiaoyang; Li, Luzhao; Li, Xuesong; Liu, Qinfang; Li, Zejun


H9N2 subtype avian influenza has spread dramatically in China ever since first reported in the 1990s. A national vaccination program for poultry was initiated in 1998. Field isolation data show that the widely used inactivated H9N2 vaccine does not provide effective control of the transmission of this low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) virus in poultry. Current research has focused on two reasons: (i) insufficient immune response triggered by the vaccination with the inactivated virus, (ii) the occurrence of escape mutants selected by vaccine-induced immune pressure. However, the lack of effectivity of the inactivated virus vaccine to sufficiently reduce transmission has been noticed. We mimicked the natural infection and transmission process of the H9N2 virus in vaccinated and non-vaccinated chickens. A statistical model was used to estimate the transmission rate parameters among vaccinated chickens, varying in serum hemagglutinin inhibition titers (HIT) and non-vaccinated chickens. We demonstrate, for the first time, that the transmission is not sufficiently reduced by the H9N2 vaccine, even when vaccinated chickens have an IgG serum titer (HIT>23), which is considered protective for vaccination against homologous highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus. Our study does, on the other hand, cast new light on virus transmission and immune escape of LPAI H9N2 virus in vaccinated chickens populations, and shows that new mitigation strategies against LPAI viruses in poultry are needed.