Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study on adverse effects of rubella immunisation in seronegative women

Lancet. 1997 May 3;349(9061):1277-81. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(96)12031-6.


Background: The objective of our study was to investigate the association of adverse clinical musculoskeletal and neurological events in healthy postpartum women with live attenuated (RA27/3 strain) rubella-virus vaccine, and to assess the frequency of acute and recurrent arthralgia and arthritis and associations with acute and recurrent muscle pain (myalgia) and neurological manifestations (paraesthesias).

Methods: We used a randomised placebo-controlled, double-blind design in a community setting. 636 women were enrolled and, after 90 women dropped out, 546 healthy women aged 18-41 years, who were rubella seronegative on routine screening were immunised parenterally with either monovalent live attenuated (RA27/3 strain) rubella vaccine (n = 270) or saline placebo (n = 276) in the postpartum period. Outcome measures were the occurrence of acute and persistent or recurrent joint manifestations (arthralgia or arthritis) at 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months after immunisation. Occurrence of muscle pain (myalgia), and neurological symptoms (paraesthesia) was also assessed at the same times.

Findings: 543 women completed 1-month follow-up. 456 women completed the 12-month assessment. There were no differences at the time of immunisation between rubella vaccine and placebo groups in distribution of age, ethnic origin, parity, time between delivery and immunisation, breastfeeding history, or histories of earlier rubella vaccination or joint complaints. Results indicated a significantly higher incidence (p = 0.006; odds ratio = 1.73 [95% CI = 1.17-2.57]) of acute joint manifestations in rubella-vaccine recipients (30%) than in placebo recipients (20%). Frequency of chronic (recurrent) arthralgia or arthritis was only marginally significant (p = 0.042; 1.58 [1.01-2.45]).

Interpretation: RA27/3 rubella vaccine given to seronegative women during the postpartum period was significantly associated with development of acute arthralgia or arthritis. Although the numbers of women assessed and length of follow-up revealed only marginally significant differences in persistent or recurrent joint manifestations between rubella vaccine and placebo recipients, it is possible that susceptible women who are given rubella vaccination may experience this outcome.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Arthralgia / etiology
  • Arthritis / etiology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscular Diseases / etiology
  • Pain / etiology
  • Paresthesia / etiology
  • Postpartum Period
  • Rubella / immunology
  • Rubella / prevention & control*
  • Rubella Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • Rubella virus / immunology
  • Vaccination / adverse effects
  • Vaccines, Attenuated


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Rubella Vaccine
  • Vaccines, Attenuated
  • rubella antibodies