The Americas are the first world region to stop the transmission of rubella. Sustained, continuous vaccination campaigns made it happen, setting an example for other regions to follow.

Rubella is a contagious viral disease, most dangerous when pregnant women are infected because it can cause multiple birth defects and even fetal death.

Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome are the third and fourth vaccine-preventable diseases that the 45 countries and territories of the Americas have eliminated, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The region eliminated smallpox in 1971 and polio in 1994.

“All four achievements prove the value of immunization and how important it is to make vaccines available even to the remotest corners of our hemisphere,”  said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne.

Adults receive vaccinations in Colombia. (PAHO/WHO)

This public health achievement originated with a commitment from all the region’s health ministers in 2003, followed by contributions and actions from many agencies throughout the region. Some key actions included:

Creation of partnerships: PAHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and other partners supported elimination efforts. They involved diverse civil society groups, such as scientific societies, churches, educational and academic institutions, and the media.

Introduction of rubella vaccine: Use of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines (MMR) in routine regional immunizations marked a key step toward rubella elimination. Newborns received doses at 12 and 28 months of age. Ninety-five percent of the population must be immunized to achieve regional disease prevention, health agencies recommend.

A Guatemalan child is inoculated during Vaccination Week 2015. (PAHO/WHO)

Mass vaccination campaigns: Immunization campaigns targeted some 250 million youths and adults who did not receive vaccinations in infancy. Health workers administered vaccines door-to-door and in public places including schools, jails, prisons, transit terminals, workplaces, markets and shopping centers.

Better detection and surveillance: Public health agencies improved capabilities to track occurrence of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. These efforts allowed improved responses to outbreaks and treatment of disease.

The global effort to eliminate these highly contagious diseases carries on in other world regions with the Measles and Rubella Initiative.