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Rubella, also known as German measles, is an infection caused by a virus. It can lead to fever, sore throat and swollen glands. Rubella is usually a mild illness in children. It is more severe in teenagers and adults. If a woman is infected with rubella during pregnancy, the virus can infect the fetus and cause “congenital rubella syndrome (CRS)” which results in malformations of the child’s brain, eye, heart and other organs, and even death. The primary goal of the vaccine is to prevent infection in pregnant women.

Routine infant immunization programs have significantly decreased the incidence of rubella. Since the late 1990s there have been only isolated clusters of the disease among unimmunized people.


Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Immunization Guide. Evergreen edition. (external link)

Canadian Paediatric Society. Rubella. (external link)

Capsule History

  • Before vaccine – In North America, outbreaks of rubella occurred almost every spring; mainly in children aged 6 to 10. Large epidemics occurred about every seven years. In one major epidemic in the United States that began in 1964, nearly 30,000 babies were infected with rubella; more than 8000 died and about 20,000 had CRS.
  • 1968–69 – Three different rubella vaccines were developed. At first, the vaccine was used in different ways in different countries. Some Canadian provinces followed the “American” approach which focused on widespread immunization. Others followed the “British” model which recommended the vaccine only for girls aged 10 to 12, and susceptible adult women.
  • 1988 – British authorities changed to the American schedule, recognizing that immunizing girls alone was insufficient to protect them from the virus.
  • 1996 – A study undertaken in British Columbia and Alberta showed that women vaccinated against rubella had no greater risk of developing such conditions as chronic arthritis, lupus, and chronic fatigue syndrome. The study recommended that rubella-susceptible women of childbearing age continue to be vaccinated.
  • 2000 to 2004 – From 2000 to 2004, fewer than 30 sporadic cases of rubella and 0 to 3 cases of congenital rubella syndrome were reported each year in Canada.