The Measles and Rubella Partnership (M&RP) honors Dr. Susan Reef with the lifetime achievement award.
Dr. Susan Reef, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, experienced a pivotal shift in her career when she joined the National Immunization Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1994. “I was asked whether I wanted to work on the chickenpox vaccination program or rubella. I chose rubella,” Dr. Reef recalls. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
While she recognized her ability to make a significant impact on both diseases, Dr. Reef felt compelled to focus on rubella, driven by the pressing need for a national and global advocate to push for elimination. Prior to this decision, her team started to see a shift in the epidemiology of rubella in the United States. It was having a devasting impact on people from countries that hadn’t introduced rubella vaccine into their national programs. Sensing the urgency, Dr. Reef escalated her efforts to tackle the growing public health challenge. She helped to develop a prototype of a congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) surveillance system in the Caribbean, which was later used throughout Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other World Health Organization (WHO) Regions. Under her leadership, the United States was verified as having eliminated rubella and CRS in 2004—just 10 years after she began her groundbreaking work.
However, as more countries actively work towards elimination, Dr. Reef warns of ongoing challenges, “we still have 32,000 children being born with CRS each year—that’s 32,000 too many.” CRS can lead to severe congenital disabilities, including heart and eye defects, hearing impairment, and developmental delays. “That drives the message home that the rubella vaccine needs to be used in every country.” Currently, there are 19 countries that have yet to introduce the vaccine. According to Dr. Reef, many of them grapple with weak health systems and will need assistance to implement vaccination introduction. Despite these challenges, she remains optimistic that a rubella-free world is possible with collaborative global efforts.
That’s exactly what the Measles and Rubella Partnership is doing by supporting countries worldwide in providing rubella vaccines through high-quality immunization services. Dr. Reef has been a key figure in the Measles and Rubella Partnership since 2017, initially joining when it was known as the Measles and Rubella Initiative. Her influence was pivotal in its eventual renaming, a change that better reflects the collaborative nature of the Partnership’s member agencies. Today, the Partnership helps countries increase vaccination coverage targets to achieve measles and rubella elimination. “With all the different agencies working together, M&RP will move this work forward quickly,” Dr. Reef noted, referring to the American Red Cross, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
The Measles and Rubella Lifetime Achievement Award
In March 2024, Dr. Reef will receive the Measles and Rubella Partnership Lifetime Achievement Award, a testament to her nearly three decades of unwavering dedication to eliminating rubella. Reflecting on this accolade, she expressed, “I am deeply grateful for the recognition of my dedication and passion and feel truly honored to receive this award.”
Dr. Reef’s career has been multifaceted and enduring—and she’s far from finished. She continues approaching her work on rubella with enthusiasm and curiosity. Her commitment to working with others on rubella elimination remains stronger than ever and she hopes to see rubella and CRS eradicated in the near future.
Featured Image ©UNICEF/U.S.CDC/ UN0723066/Monir