Rubella Vaccine
all information

Rubella Vaccine

(German Measles Vaccine)

En Español (Spanish Version)

What Is Rubella?

Rubella is an illness caused by a virus that can result in a rash, mild fever, or arthritis . Pregnant women who have rubella are at increased risk for miscarriage and their babies may be born with severe birth defects, including mental retardation, behavior problems, vision problems, heart defects, and/or an increased risk of diabetes throughout life.

Rubella is passed from person to person through tiny droplets in the air.

Before the rubella vaccine was licensed in 1969, thousands of people developed rubella each year. But in 2004, there were only nine cases of rubella reported in the United States.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Flushed face
  • Red throat (although not sore)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Achy joints and arthritis (especially in adults)
  • Red, spotty rash all over the body

The rash and fever associated with rubella generally last for 2-3 days.

There is no treatment for rubella, but taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) can make an infected person feel more comfortable.

What Is the Rubella Vaccine?

Although the rubella vaccine is available as a single preparation, it is recommended to be given as a combination vaccine called the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps , and rubella.

The MMR vaccine is made from weakened live viruses. It is given by injection and should be stored in a refrigerator prior to administration.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

All children (with few exceptions) should receive the vaccine two times: at 12-15 months and again at 4-6 years (school entry). The second dose can be given earlier, but the two doses must be separated by at least four weeks.

For those aged 12 months to 18 years who have not been vaccinated, two doses of MMR are given, separated by a minimum of 4 weeks. Adults, aged 19 or older, who require vaccination receive one or two doses.*

What Are the Risks Associated With the Rubella Vaccine?

Like any vaccine, the MMR vaccine could cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction. While most people don’t experience any problems, some have reported mild problems, such as fever, a mild rash, or swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck. Moderate problems, including seizure caused by fever, temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, and low platelet count, have also been reported. Very rarely, serious allergic reaction, deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness, and permanent brain damage have been reported after an MMR vaccination.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or a previous dose of MMR vaccine should not receive the vaccine. Also, people who are moderately or severely ill should wait until they recover before getting the vaccination. Pregnant women should not receive the MMR vaccine until after they have given birth, and women should avoid getting pregnant for four weeks after getting the vaccine.

Talk with your doctor before getting the MMR vaccine if you:

  • Have a condition that affects the immune system (eg, HIV/AIDS)
  • Are being treated with drugs that affect the immune system (eg, long-term steroids)
  • Have cancer or are being treated for cancer
  • Have ever had a low blood platelet count
  • Have had a blood transfusion

What Other Ways Can Rubella Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Widespread vaccination against rubella has resulted in its virtual elimination in the United States, but it is important to avoid contact with people who may have been exposed to the disease in order to prevent it.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

Since rubella is so now rare in the United States, even one case is considered potential for an outbreak. In the event of a potential outbreak, members of households, workplaces, universities, jails, and communities with rubella-infected persons will be assessed to determine whether they might have rubella.

Once rubella cases are identified, patients should be isolated for 5-7 days after the rash began. Furthermore, people in contact with the infected person should be vaccinated if they are eligible for the vaccine. It is important to identify and test all pregnant women for rubella immunity. These women should avoid activities where they may be exposed to an infected person for a prolonged period of time. In some settings, such as children born with congenital rubella syndrome, viral shedding can be quite prolonged.


Immunization Initiatives
American Academy of Pediatrics

National Immunization Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed January 31, 2007.

Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Accessed January 31, 2007.

Rubella vaccine chart. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed January 31, 2007.

*Updated Who Should Get Vaccinated and When section on 1/31/2008 according to the following study, as cited by DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR. 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.

Last reviewed February 2008 by David Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness