A massive diphtheria epidemic which began in the former Soviet Union in 1990 is the first large-scale diphtheria epidemic in developed countries in more than 30 years and has primarily affected adults. In response, health authorities attempted to maximize vaccination for children and conducted an unprecedented campaign to vaccinate adults. We analyzed diphtheria surveillance data (case report forms and diphtheria vaccine coverage data) from three Russian regions from January 1994 to December 1996 and estimated vaccine effectiveness by the screening method. We reviewed records from 2243 (97.2%) of 2307 reported cases. The highest cumulative incidence in the period was among children aged 5 to 9 years (106 cases per 100,000 population); adults aged 40-49 years had the highest adult incidence for disease (88 cases per 100,000) and the highest incidence of any age group of clinically severe disease (29 cases per 100,000) and death (5.1 deaths per 100,000). The incidence among women aged 2049 years (82 per 100,000 women) was higher than among men (47 per 100,000, p<0.01). The annual incidence decreased from 25.2 cases per 100,000 population in 1994 to 9.4 cases per 100,000 in 1996. The decrease occurred as adult coverage increased from an estimated 25-30% in December 1992 to 88% in December 1995. Vaccine effectiveness was high among both children and adults. The Russian diphtheria epidemic primarily affected adults, especially women; this pattern is likely representative of diphtheria epidemics in immunized populations. Raising childhood immunization coverage and mass adult vaccination was effective in controlling the Russian epidemic. An improved understanding of the current epidemiology of diphtheria will be useful to design public health responses to prevent or control modern epidemics.