LORELAI: I had the German measles in the fifth grade, I still had to show up to the Christmas party … My polka dot dress matched my face and still I had to sit through twelve courses.
German measles, also known as rubella, is an infection caused by the Rubella virus. It is often mild in children, and symptoms include low-grade fever, sore throat, fatigue, and a rash. The disease can be considerably more severe if an adult catches it, and worst of all for women in the early stages of pregnancy – it increases the chance of miscarriage, and there is a high chance of the baby being born with disabilities such as blindness, deafness, mental retardation, and heart defects.
A vaccine against the virus was developed in 1969 and it was added to the MMR vaccine in 1971, so it was possible for Lorelai to be vaccinated against German measles. In 1977 (when Lorelai was 8-9) the US developed a nationwide childhood immunisation initiative – children are usually 10-11 in fifth grade, so Lorelai should theoretically have been vaccinated by then. This does fit in with Amy Sherman-Palladino’s age though, as she is two years older than Lorelai and would have been in 5th grade around 1977 – maybe just too late to avoid getting the disease.
In any case, Emily was irresponsible and selfish to force Lorelai to attend a party with German measles. The disease is highly infectious, and any female of child-bearing age would be at risk, as you don’t usually know you are pregnant in the early stages.
There is no excuse for ignorance either, as there was a rubella epidemic in the US in 1964-65, not that long before Lorelai’s birth, leading to about 16 000 children being born disabled, as well as 2000 neonatal deaths, and 11 000 abortions and miscarriages due to the disease.