Prior to the measles vaccine, the United States alone had nearly 4 million cases of measles each year. The introduction of the vaccine led to a dramatic decline in measles cases.

A measles vaccine, engineered by Nobel Prize-winning virologist John F. Enders, first became licensed in 1963 and was followed by an improved vaccine in 1968. A vaccine for rubella became available in 1969. In many countries, the vaccines are combined into an “MR” vaccine, or with a mumps vaccine into an “MMR” vaccine. Individual governments make decisions about which vaccines to use.

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children receive two doses of measles vaccine. The WHO also recommends that measles and rubella efforts be combined. The Measles & Rubella Initiative is making great strides to bring this opportunity to the world’s children.The vaccines are safe and effective, and when coverage in a population is very high, the viruses stop circulating. Very high coverage can thus lead to the elimination of measles and rubella.

To eliminate measles in the United States for example, the country focused on securing high vaccination coverage among pre-school and school-aged children. In the 1990s, countries in South and Central America began conducting campaigns, vaccinating all young people between 9 months and 15 years to rapidly interrupt the spread of the measles virus. This approach was a significant factor in achieving measles elimination in the Western Hemisphere (2002), and the elimination of indigenous rubella in 2009.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative helps procure the measles-rubella vaccine from pharmaceutical companies and delivers it to countries organizing vaccination campaigns. The vaccine used by the Measles & Rubella Initiative is verified to be safe and effective by the WHO.

The Initiative also works with each country to ensure that a system is in place to maintain the vaccine at the proper temperature until it reaches the children who need it. Both the measles and rubella vaccines can be purchased and administered for about US $2, making this one of the most cost-effective health interventions available.