Measles remains an important cause of child morbidity and mortality worldwide despite the availability of a safe and efficacious vaccine. The current measles virus (MeV) vaccine was developed empirically by attenuation of wild-type (WT) MeV by in vitro passage in human and chicken cells and licensed in 1963. Additional passages led to further attenuation and the successful vaccine strains in widespread use today. Attenuation is associated with decreased replication in lymphoid tissue, but the molecular basis for this restriction has not been identified. The immune response is age dependent, inhibited by maternal antibody (Ab) and involves induction of both Ab and T cell responses that resemble the responses to WT MeV infection, but are lower in magnitude. Protective immunity is correlated with levels of neutralizing Ab, but the actual immunologic determinants of protection are not known. Because measles is highly transmissible, control requires high levels of population immunity. Delivery of the two doses of vaccine needed to achieve >90% immunity is accomplished by routine immunization of infants at 9-15 months of age followed by a second dose delivered before school entry or by periodic mass vaccination campaigns. Because delivery by injection creates hurdles to sustained high coverage, there are efforts to deliver MeV vaccine by inhalation. In addition, the safety record for the vaccine combined with advances in reverse genetics for negative strand viruses has expanded proposed uses for recombinant versions of measles vaccine as vectors for immunization against other infections and as oncolytic agents for a variety of tumors.
Keywords: attenuation; measles; population immunity.