Objective: West African studies have hypothesized that increased female mortality after high-titre measles vaccine (HTMV) was due to subsequent diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) vaccinations. We tested two deductions from this hypothesis in HTMV studies from rural Sudan and Kinshasa; first, there should be no excess female mortality for HTMV recipients when DTP was not given after HTMV and second, excess female mortality should only be found among those children who received DTP after HTMV.
Studies: The Sudanese trial randomised 510 children to Edmonston-Zagreb (EZ) HTMV, Connaught HTMV or a control vaccine (meningococcal). Both the Connaught HTMV and the control group received standard measles vaccine at 9 months. In the Kinshasa study 1023 children received one dose of HTMV at 6 months or two doses at 312 and 912 months of age.
Findings: First, the Sudan trial is one of the few randomised studies of measles vaccine; the EZ HTMV group had lower mortality between 5 and 9 months of age than controls, the mortality ratio (MR) being 0.00 (p = 0.030). This effect was not due to prevention of measles infection. Second, both studies provided evidence that HTMV per se was associated with low mortality. In a combined analysis comparing both HTMV groups with controls, the HTMV groups had a MR of 0.09 (0.01-0.71) between 5 and 9 months of age. In Kinshasa, the HTMV recipients who did not receive simultaneous DTP had an annual mortality rate of only 1.0% between 6 months and 3 years of age. Third, the female-male MR was related to subsequent DTP vaccinations. In Kinshasa, the female-male MR was only 0.40 (0.13-1.27) among the HTMV recipients who did not receive further doses of DTP. In Sudan, the female-male mortality ratio in the EZ group was 3.89 (95% CI 1.02-14.83) and the female-male MR increased with number of doses of DTP likely to have been given during follow-up (trend, p = 0.043). Fourth, in Kinshasa, mortality was higher among children who had received HTMV and DTP simultaneously than among children who had received HTMV alone (MR = 5.38 (1.37-21.2)).
Conclusions: Measles vaccine is associated with non-specific beneficial effects. When not given with DTP, HTMV per se was associated with low mortality. Increased female mortality was not found among children who did not receive DTP after HTMV. Hence, our deductions were supported and the sequence or combination of vaccinations may have an effect on sex-specific mortality patterns in low-income countries.