Skip to main content

Fighting Rubella without Vaccines: The Danish Exception, 1941-1987

Author: Anne Hagen Berg
Published: Social History of Medicine, hkac025

In the wake of isolating the rubella (German measles) virus in 1962, laboratories in several countries set out to develop a vaccine against the teratogenic disease. Denmark chose to eliminate congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) by abortions, a strategy that differed markedly from other countries’ vaccination strategies. Danish health authorities sought to identify women entitled to therapeutic abortion and then developed a serological test with which to diagnose the presence of rubella in these women. While initially solving the problem, the Danish strategy eventually encountered other problems. This article examines the construction of rubella and CRS as problems confronting individual women in Denmark rather than as a public health challenge. Although health authorities and policymakers subsequently tried to introduce rubella vaccinations, the initially ground-breaking technology of serology tests and the institutional development established a path that proved difficult to change.

Find the paper here