Both systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and its treatment can cause immunosuppression and a decreased response to vaccination. We evaluated 30 children and adolescents with SLE, and 14 age-matched healthy subjects (control group) regarding immunophenotyping and lymphocyte apoptosis by flow cytometry, while measles and tetanus antibodies were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The SLE group was divided according to disease activity into inactive SLE and active SLE. Individuals with active SLE had lower CD4+ T and natural killer (NK) cells/mm(3) than the control group. Active and inactive SLE individuals had more CD38 molecules/CD8+ T cells and more CD4+ T, CD8+ T and B cells in apoptosis (as assessed by caspase-3 expression) than the control group. Patients with active SLE had a diminished CD28 expression on both CD4+ T and on CD8+ T cells and a higher CD86 expression on B cells than the control group. Measles antibody levels in the SLE groups were similar to the control group. In contrast, tetanus antibody levels were lower in the SLE groups than in the control group. The latter also directly correlated with the CD4+ T-cell and NK-cell counts from SLE patients (regression coefficient, 2.686 and 1.782; p = 0.010 and p = 0.039, respectively). We concluded that despite being up-to-date for tetanus vaccine, SLE patients presented with a poor immune response to tetanus vaccine.