Rubella’s elimination from Australia shows ‘vaccinations save lives and protect lives’

Rubella can result in miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects

The elimination of rubella is a great day for public health in Australia and sends a powerful message that vaccinations work, the Australian health minister Greg Hunt has said.

Rubella, a highly contagious viral disease that can result in miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects has been eliminated across the country, the World Health Organization announced on Wednesday.

The illness – also known as German measles – causes a fever, rash, joint pain and swollen lymph glands. If contracted by pregnant women during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy it can result in miscarriage or stillbirth or cause life-long medical issues for their babies.

Hunt said Australia’s national immunisation program had been essential in eliminating the disease. The program provides free vaccination for protection against rubella for children aged 12 months, with a booster given at 18 months. Nationwide immunisation rates for five-year-olds is now 94.62 per cent, the highest figure on record. “The science is in and the medical experts’ advice is absolute – vaccinations save lives and protect lives and they are an essential part of a healthy society,” Hunt said.


In Ireland a single rubella vaccine for pre-pubertal girls was introduced in 1971. This was followed in 1988 by the one-dose measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and succeeded by a two-dose vaccine in 1992. According to the Health Service Executive, the MMR vaccine should be given at least one month before pregnancy.

The success of rubella vaccination can be gauged from the fact that, in Ireland, there were 106 recorded cases of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) between 1975 and 1990; two recorded CRS cases between 1991 and 2000; and in April 2016 the World Health Organisation declared Ireland rubella-free. Nevertheless, antenatal rubella antibody screening continues in Ireland, aiming to identify susceptible women who would benefit from postnatal MMR vaccination, thus conferring protection against rubella infection in future pregnancies.

Australia has had rolling epidemics of rubella: the largest number of cases were reported in 1958, with more than 5,000 notified cases; in 1963-64, with more than 3,000 notified cases; and in the early 1990s, with more than 4,000 notified cases.

More than 30 countries have now eliminated rubella, with “eliminated” status declared once there has been no endemic transmission for at least 36 months. – Guardian