Background: An Expanded Programme on Immunization was started in late 1987 in Niger, including vaccination against measles with one dose of standard titer Schwarz vaccine given to infants after 9 months of age. During epidemics an early two-dose strategy was implemented (one dose between 6 and 8 months and one dose after 9 months). From January 1, 1995, until May 7, 1995, 13 892 measles cases were reported in Niamey, Niger.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted in a crowded area of Niamey at the end of the outbreak to assess the effectiveness of measles vaccine in standard (after 9 months) and early (before 9 months) immunization strategies under field conditions.
Results: Highest measles incidence rates were observed among children <1 year of age. Vaccine effectiveness estimates increased with age at vaccination from 78% with a single dose administered at 6 months of age to 95% at 9 months. Vaccine effectiveness with the early two dose strategy was 93%.
Conclusions: Immunization with a single dose of standard titer Schwarz vaccine before 9 months of age provided higher clinical protection than expected from seropositivity studies. The early two dose strategy is justified in contexts where measles incidence is high before 9 months of age. Our results raise the issue of lowering the recommended age for measles vaccination in developing countries.