To evaluate the priming effect, immunogenicity and safety of an Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) tetanus toroid conjugate (PRP-T) and diphtheria-tetanus-acellular (two component) pertussis (DTaP) combination vaccine, a randomized, comparative study was conducted in two centers, one in Belgium and one in Turkey. A total of 410 healthy infants, 160 in Belgium and 250 in Turkey, randomly received DTaP and PRP-T vaccines in one of three fashions. One group (N = 138) received DTaP and PRP-T vaccines reconstituted immediately prior to injection at 3, 4 and 5 months of age, and are referred to as the combined, short schedule group (Co-S). A second group (N = 135) received DTaP + PRP-T simultaneously but injected at different sites according to the same schedule, and are referred to as the associated, short schedule group (As-S). The third group (N = 137) also received DTaP + PRP-T at separate sites, but at 2, 4 and 6 months, and are referred to as the associated, long schedule group (As-L). The As-L group allowed for serological bridging with a Senegalese two-component pertussis vaccine efficacy trial, using the same batch of DTaP vaccine. Children of both short-schedule groups (Co-S and As-S) received, at the age of 12-14 months, a booster dose of DTaP vaccine associated with unconjugated PRP vaccine. Mixing of the vaccines did not affect the immune response to the antigens included in the DTaP vaccine. The immune response to Hib capsular polysaccharide, however, was significantly lower after combined administration (Co-S group) than after associated (As-S group) administration (P < 0.0001), with a similar trend among both countries (GMTs, 1.78 mu g/ml and 6.19 mu g/ml in Belgium, and 5.02 mu g/ml and 11.67 mu g/ml in Turkey). Booster vaccination with the unconjugated PRP induced a vigorous and similar anamnestic response in both groups. Belgian infants showed a significantly lower immune response to all antigens than Turkish infants (P less than or equal to 0.001 for all antigens), with a similar trend among each study group. In all groups, the incidence of adverse events was lower than that usually reported after DTwP(whole-cell) vaccine. Higher rates of systemic reactions were observed in the Belgian population, possibly due to differences in reporting practice. Our results indicate (1) that the combination vaccine, DTaP//PRP-T, represents an important improvement over the existing uncombined vaccines; (2) that immunogenicity studies should include at least one booster injection to evaluate priming effects by combined vaccines; and (3) that it is feasible and valuable to co-randomize combination vaccine studies in sufficiently different geographical areas and child populations. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.