Rubella, sometimes called German measles, is a serious disease that used to be common in the United States. Thanks to the vaccine, rubella was declared eliminated from the United States in 2004 — meaning it’s no longer constantly present in this country. But, each year, a few Americans who live or travel outside of the country report getting sick from rubella.
There are 2 vaccines that can prevent rubella:
- The MMR vaccine protects children and adults from rubella measles, and mumps
- The MMRV vaccine protects children from rubella, measles, mumps, and chickenpox
Why is the rubella vaccine important?
Rubella is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It can lead to serious complications, especially for unborn babies. If a pregnant woman gets rubella, she can lose her baby. Babies born to mothers who had rubella can have birth defects that last a lifetime.
Rubella is still common in other countries. People can get the disease when they travel — and spread it to people who aren’t vaccinated when they come home.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent rubella. And when enough people get vaccinated against rubella, the entire community is less likely to get it. So when you and your family get vaccinated, you help keep yourselves and your community healthy.
Learn more about how vaccines help protect your whole community.
What is rubella?
Rubella is a disease caused by a virus. Sometimes, rubella doesn’t cause any symptoms. When it does cause symptoms, they may include:
- Mild fever
- Mild pink eye (redness or swelling of the eye)
- Swollen glands
- Feeling uncomfortable
- Runny nose
Most people with rubella get better in a few weeks. But sometimes, it can cause serious complications, like:
- Arthritis (joint pain and swelling)
- Brain infections
- Bleeding problems
Rubella is very dangerous for unborn babies. If a woman gets rubella during pregnancy, she can lose her baby — either earlier in the pregnancy (miscarriage) or later in the pregnancy (stillbirth). Babies born to mothers with rubella can also have serious health problems that last for life. For example:
- Heart problems
- Hearing or eyesight loss
- Learning disabilities
- Liver or spleen damage
Rubella spreads through the air — like when someone who has it coughs or sneezes. Learn more about rubella.
Who needs to get the rubella vaccine?
All children need to get the rubella vaccine — and some adults may need it, too.
Children ages 1 through 6 years need to get the rubella vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.
Children need 2 doses of the vaccine at the following ages:
- 12 through 15 months for the first dose
- 4 through 6 years for the second dose (or sooner as long as it’s 28 days after the first dose)
Children ages 1 through 12 years can get the MMRV vaccine, which is a combination vaccine. The MMRV vaccine protects against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. Your child’s doctor can recommend the vaccine that’s right for your child.
Adults may need to get the rubella vaccine if they didn’t get it as a child. In general, everyone age 18 and older born after 1956 who has not had rubella needs at least 1 dose of the rubella vaccine. Healthcare professionals who have not had rubella need 2 doses of the rubella vaccine.
Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from rubella.
Who should not get the rubella vaccine?
You should not get the rubella vaccine if you:
- Have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a dose of the rubella vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (like neomycin, an antibiotic sometimes used in vaccines)
- Are pregnant
Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Have tuberculosis
- Have cancer
- Are taking medicines that can affect your immune system
- Have ever had a low platelet count (a blood disorder)
- Have had another vaccine in the past month
- Have recently had a blood transfusion or were given other blood products, like plasma
If you’re sick, you may need to wait until you’re feeling better to get the rubella vaccine.
What are the side effects of the rubella vaccine?
Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:
- Mild rash
- Swollen glands in the cheeks or neck
Less common side effects of the rubella vaccine include:
- Pain or stiffness in the joints, usually in women (up to 1 person out of 4)
- Seizures (sudden, unusual movements or behavior) from having a high fever (about 1 out of every 3,000 doses)
- Temporary (short-term) low platelet count (about 1 out of every 30,000 doses)
Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that the rubella vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting the rubella vaccine is much safer than getting rubella. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
Where can I get more information about the rubella vaccine?
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against rubella:
- MMR vaccine — protects against rubella, measles, and mumps
- MMRV vaccine — protects against rubella, measles, mumps, and chickenpox (for children)