Implications of spatially heterogeneous vaccination coverage for the risk of congenital rubella syndrome in South Africa.
Metcalf CJE., Cohen C., Lessler J., McAnerney JM., Ntshoe GM., Puren A., Klepac P., Tatem A., Grenfell BT., Bjørnstad ON.
Rubella is generally a mild childhood disease, but infection during early pregnancy may cause spontaneous abortion or congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which may entail a variety of birth defects. Since vaccination at levels short of those necessary to achieve eradication may increase the average age of infection, and thus potentially the CRS burden, introduction of the vaccine has been limited to contexts where coverage is high. Recent work suggests that spatial heterogeneity in coverage should also be a focus of concern. Here, we use a detailed dataset from South Africa to explore the implications of heterogeneous vaccination for the burden of CRS, introducing realistic vaccination scenarios based on reported levels of measles vaccine coverage. Our results highlight the potential impact of country-wide reductions of incidence of rubella on the local CRS burdens in districts with small population sizes. However, simulations indicate that if rubella vaccination is introduced with coverage reflecting current estimates for measles coverage in South Africa, the burden of CRS is likely to be reduced overall over a 30 year time horizon by a factor of 3, despite the fact that this coverage is lower than the traditional 80 per cent rule of thumb for vaccine introduction, probably owing to a combination of relatively low birth and transmission rates. We conclude by discussing the likely impact of private-sector vaccination.