The effectiveness of vaccination against measles, the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in infants globally, is greatly impacted by the level of maternal antibody to measles virus (or "measles maternal antibody"; MMA) during infancy. Variation in the prevalence of maternal antibody to measles virus between infant populations across countries and sociodemographic strata is poorly understood. We reviewed the literature on the prevalence of MMA, focusing on 3 principal determinants: starting level of maternal antibody, placental transfer of maternal antibody, and rate of decay of maternal antibody after birth. Our review identified placental transfer as an important determinant, with greater efficiency found in studies performed in developed countries. Placental transfer was influenced by gestational age, human immunodeficiency virus infection, and malaria. Antibody levels in mothers varied widely between countries, although predictably according to vaccination status within populations. Rates of antibody decay across studies were similar. Future studies should evaluate the utility of the cord blood level of MMA as a predictor of vaccine efficacy in infancy; inclusion of World Health Organization international reference sera will facilitate comparisons. Greater understanding of the determinants of the prevalence of MMA will help national policy makers determine the appropriate age for measles vaccination.
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