BACKGROUND: The meningococcal serogroup C conjugate (MCC) vaccine was introduced into the United Kingdom with licensure based on immunogenicity data not efficacy data. METHODS: All subjects with laboratory-confirmed meningococcal serogroup C (MenC) disease from January 2000 to December 2003 in England and Wales were followed up. A vaccine failure was defined as a laboratory-confirmed case of MenC disease occurring \textgreater or =10 days after the subject's last scheduled dose of MCC vaccine. Total immunoglobulins, serum bactericidal antibody (SBA) titers, MCC anticapsular antibody levels, and avidity indices (AIs) were measured in acute and convalescent serum samples from subjects with vaccine failure and unvaccinated subjects with MenC disease. RESULTS: Of 465 subjects with confirmed MenC disease identified among those eligible for vaccination, information on vaccination history was obtained for 462 (99.4\%); of these, 53 were subjects with vaccine failure. SBA titers in convalescent serum samples and AIs in acute serum samples were significantly higher in subjects with vaccine failure than in unvaccinated subjects, (6.1-fold higher for SBA titers P=.03 and 3.2-fold higher for AIs P=.001). CONCLUSIONS: The antibody response in the subjects with vaccine failure was consistent with an anamnestic response, suggesting that MenC disease occurred despite the MCC vaccine priming for immune memory. Persistence of antibodies may be a more appropriate correlate of long-term protection for MCC vaccines than the ability to generate a booster response on exposure.