What CDC Is Doing About Global Measles & Rubella

Updated March 22, 2022

Overall Focus

CDC works with partners worldwide to eliminate measles and rubella, protecting people, especially children, from these deadly and disabling diseases.

CDC invests globally in reducing the burden of vaccine preventable diseases because it is a best buy for public health and strengthens U.S. national and global health security. Vaccines save millions of lives, reduce healthcare costs and minimize economic impacts on families and societies.

Rubella Goals

Rubella elimination in every region of the world.

CDC, through the Measles and Rubella Initiative partnership, focuses on elimination goals for rubella established in every region of the world.

Rubella infection during pregnancy can lead to serious complications, including fetal death or lifelong disabilities caused by Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). CDC invests in surveillance, early detection and laboratory confirmation of the circulation of rubella and supports mother and child health by strengthening immunization systems, including in the 21 remaining countries where rubella vaccine is not yet delivered through their national immunization programs. A single dose of Rubella vaccine offers protection against the virus for life, helps stop transmission and saves innocent lives.

Today, rubella vaccine is administered through the national immunization programs in 173 countries. This progress represents protection from rubella infection in 89% of the world. In 2015, the Region of the Americas was declared rubella free, and the remaining five WHO regions are making progress toward elimination.

More Babies Protected from Rubella Than Ever Before

Percentage of countries that have introduced rubella-containing vaccine in the routine schedule, by World Bank income group and year – worldwide, 2000-2020.

Rubella is being eliminated country by country with more babies protected in lower to middle income countries than ever before. Because of vaccination activities, 70% of all infants worldwide have access to rubella vaccine, and 93 (48%) countries have stopped endemic rubella transmission, ending fetal death and birth defects due to CRS in those countries.

Measles Goals

Achieve High Vaccine Coverage to Prevent and Stop the Spread

CDC, together with Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI) partners, is focused on eliminating measles in every region of the world. By improving vaccine coverage worldwide and strengthening national immunization service delivery to reach every child on-time with lifesaving vaccines, a world free from measles deaths and disease is attainable. Today, every region in the world has a measles elimination goal, achieved in the Americas until 2018 and nearing achievement in at least three additional regions.

From 2000 to 2020, CDC supported worldwide vaccination efforts against measles that helped save over 31.7 million lives. Because measles is so infectious and can easily spread to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations, CDC works with countries to achieve and maintain a 95% of higher coverage rate with two doses of measles-containing vaccine to prevent measles infections and outbreaks.

Vaccinate Every Child On-time to Regain Progress Towards Measles Elimination

In recent years, progress toward measles elimination targets has stalled caused by a failure to vaccinate every child on-time. Causes for failure to vaccinate must be addressed and include:

  • Ongoing disruptions of vaccination activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Weak and strained health systems and primary healthcare, as well as poorly implemented vaccination campaigns, leading to many children being missed.
  • Insufficient focus on equity with some children being left out and not reached by any vaccines.
  • Poor quality data leading to an inability to correctly identify who needs to be vaccinated.
  • Lack of investments in measles outbreak response capacity to be able to quickly contain outbreaks and limit the spread of measles outside of geographic pockets and across borders.
  • Misinformation and disinformation leading to erosion of trust in vaccines.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), which includes American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, CDC, UNICEF and WHO, and global immunization partners like GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are working to ensure that resources are positioned to address immunization delays – for measles and all vaccines – in every region of the world. A bold strategy just released by the M&RI, Measles & Rubella Strategic Framework 2021 – 2030, will help to address reversals in global progress toward measles elimination by bolstering strong, national immunization systems that can reach and protect children. This strategic shift by the partnership will focus on strengthening the routine delivery of all vaccines, and quickly and effectively detecting and responding to measles outbreaks.

Detect, Mitigate and Quickly Respond to Measles Outbreaks to Limit Loss of Life

The M&RI released a new Global Strategic Measles Outbreak Response Plan for 2021 – 2023. This worldwide response plan focuses on strategies and tools needed to quickly and effectively detect and respond to measles outbreaks to minimize loss of life.

Additionally, in response to the global increase in measles outbreaks, CDC’s Center for Global Health activated the Measles Incident Management System (MIMS) from February of 2020 to February 2021. The activation helped accelerate the agency’s ability to provide outbreak response and risk mitigation support to countries at-risk of or experiencing ongoing measles outbreaks. The activation allowed CDC to:

  • Leverage existing and new assets to provide technical support and direction for priority high-risk countries.
  • Investigate and respond to outbreaks to help bring them quickly under control.
  • Enhance efforts to detect and prevent outbreaks from occurring in high-risk areas.

For example, from June to July 2020, CDC-supported a mass measles vaccination campaign in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region that protected 14.5 million children from measles while mitigating the risk of COVID-19.

Learn more about why CDC is working to eliminate global measles and rubella, and how those efforts save lives and contribute to strengthening U.S. national and global health security.

CDC’s History

CDC has had a decades-long commitment to eliminating measles and rubella and improving child health worldwide.

Timeline of CDC Involvement with Global Measles and Rubella

  • 1999: The United States government began funding CDC for measles and other global immunization activities.
  • 2001: CDC and partners, the American Red Cross, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation and the WHO, co-founded the Measles Initiative, which initially focused on reducing measles deaths worldwide.
  • 2002: The Region of the Americas eliminated endemic measles, and measles elimination goals were established in every region of the world.
  • 2012: The Measles Initiative became what is known today as the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), and expanded its mission to include elimination goals for Rubella – a leading, preventable cause of infant death and birth defects worldwide.
  • 2015: Verified rubella elimination was announced in the Americas. This elimination has been maintained to date, and elimination targets were established in the European and Western Pacific Regions.

Overall, during 2000–2019, annual estimated measles deaths decreased 62% from 539,000 to 207,500, due to vaccination efforts.

Page last reviewed: November 5, 2021
Content source: Global Immunization