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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23580. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023580. Epub 2011 Aug 23.

Can interactions between timing of vaccine-altered influenza pandemic waves and seasonality in influenza complications lead to more severe outcomes?

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Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


Vaccination can delay the peak of a pandemic influenza wave by reducing the number of individuals initially susceptible to influenza infection. Emerging evidence indicates that susceptibility to severe secondary bacterial infections following a primary influenza infection may vary seasonally, with peak susceptibility occurring in winter. Taken together, these two observations suggest that vaccinating to prevent a fall pandemic wave might delay it long enough to inadvertently increase influenza infections in winter, when primary influenza infection is more likely to cause severe outcomes. This could potentially cause a net increase in severe outcomes. Most pandemic models implicitly assume that the probability of severe outcomes does not vary seasonally and hence cannot capture this effect. Here we show that the probability of intensive care unit (ICU) admission per influenza infection in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic followed a seasonal pattern. We combine this with an influenza transmission model to investigate conditions under which a vaccination program could inadvertently shift influenza susceptibility to months where the risk of ICU admission due to influenza is higher. We find that vaccination in advance of a fall pandemic wave can actually increase the number of ICU admissions in situations where antigenic drift is sufficiently rapid or where importation of a cross-reactive strain is possible. Moreover, this effect is stronger for vaccination programs that prevent more primary influenza infections. Sensitivity analysis indicates several mechanisms that may cause this effect. We also find that the predicted number of ICU admissions changes dramatically depending on whether the probability of ICU admission varies seasonally, or whether it is held constant. These results suggest that pandemic planning should explore the potential interactions between seasonally varying susceptibility to severe influenza outcomes and the timing of vaccine-altered pandemic influenza waves.

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