Produced by Stephanie Hughes, Bupa Health Information Team, December 2011.
This factsheet is for people who would like information about the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It’s relevant for children and adults. However, for simplicity we will refer to your child throughout.
The MMR vaccine is a combined vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella. Children will usually receive a first dose at around the age of 13 months and another at three to five years, before they start school.
The MMR vaccine is an injection that prevents your child from catching measles, mumps and rubella. Although most people usually recover from these illnesses, each one can be unpleasant and have serious consequences.
The MMR vaccine can prevent each of these illnesses.
The MMR vaccine is made from weakened forms of each of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. This vaccine stimulates your child’s immune system to respond and remember the viruses. This means that if your child gets infected with one of the three viruses, his or her immune system will recognise the virus and act to prevent infection.
The MMR vaccine is usually given to children who have the first injection between 12 to 13 months old. A second dose is given between the ages of three and five years old to protect any children who haven’t responded to the first dose.
If a child needs to be protected against measles quickly, for example, during a measles outbreak, they can have the second dose of the MMR vaccine one month after the first dose. However, if they have the second dose before they reach the age of 18 months, they should still receive the routine dose when they reach three to five years old, before they start school.
The MMR vaccine can be offered to young people when they leave school or before they enter further education if they haven’t already had both doses.
If you aren’t already immune to rubella, you will be offered the MMR vaccine if:
Talk to your GP about the MMR vaccine if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant and if you have never had rubella or the MMR vaccination.
The MMR vaccine can be given at any age. It’s not dangerous to receive the MMR vaccine more than once. If you can’t remember whether or not you have had it, ask your GP.
After the first dose of the MMR vaccine, 64 out of 100 people will be protected against mumps, 90 out of 100 people will be protected against measles and 95 out of 100 people will be protected against rubella. After the second dose, 99 out of 100 people will be protected against all three illnesses.
Since the MMR vaccine was introduced in the UK in 1988, the number of children catching measles, mumps and rubella has fallen. The introduction of the vaccine has also led to a drop in the number of babies born with serious disabilities caused when their mothers developed rubella during pregnancy.
Most people can have the MMR vaccine, but there are some who shouldn’t. These include:
Some people may get minor allergic reactions to the vaccine. However, this shouldn't stop people from having the MMR vaccine in the future. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction in which the tongue or the back of the throat may swell and is extremely rare with this vaccine.
Your GP may advise to postpone you or your child's MMR vaccine until a later date, if:
Talk to your GP or nurse if you’re not sure whether you or your child should have the MMR vaccine.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly mild and temporary effects of the vaccination. They’re usually rare after the first dose and even less likely after the second.
The three viruses in the vaccine act at different times and may produce different side-effects as they start to work.
The measles part of the vaccine starts to work six to 11 days after immunisation. Your child may have a fever or develop a measles-like rash that usually lasts two to three days. You can give your child a dose of junior paracetamol if he or she develops a fever, but if the fever persists, contact your child’s GP. Children who get vaccine-related symptoms aren't infectious to others.
About one in every 1,000 immunised children may have a fit caused by the fever. This is called a febrile convulsion. However, the number of febrile convulsions caused by measles is much higher than the number the MMR vaccine may cause.
It’s rare, but your child may get mild symptoms similar to mumps (fever and swollen glands) about two to three weeks after the MMR vaccine, when the mumps part of the vaccine starts to work.
Children may get a rash of small bruise-like spots in the first six weeks after the vaccination, but this is also very rare. It can be caused by the measles or rubella parts of the vaccine. Take your child to his or her GP if you see spots like these.
Fewer than one child in a million develops encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) after the MMR vaccine. If a child who hasn’t been vaccinated catches measles, the chance is higher – between one in 200 and one in 5,000.
Side-effects of the vaccine are usually mild and, most importantly, they are milder than the potentially serious consequences of having measles, mumps or rubella. If you’re concerned about any of your child’s symptoms, see your GP.
The MMR vaccine is made using a protein related to egg. However, evidence shows that it’s safe to give the vaccine to nearly all children, even those who have a very severe reaction to eggs.
If your child has a severe egg allergy, let your GP or nurse know. He or she can make special arrangements to give your child the MMR vaccine safely, in hospital if necessary.
You may have heard of a suggested link between the MMR vaccine and autism and bowel disease. However, there is a great deal of scientific evidence available, based on records of millions of MMR vaccinations that shows no connection between them.
A link between the MMR vaccination and autism was suggested in 1998 when a group of doctors published a paper about 12 autistic children who also had bowel problems. The doctors put forward a theory about bowel inflammation, caused by the MMR vaccine, which could lead to problems with brain development. The researchers didn’t prove their theory and they actually stated in their paper that they had not proved a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. However, the resulting media attention gave the impression that there was one. This led to some parents whose children were born after 1999 to decide not to give them the vaccine.
If your child has autism, you will usually start to notice signs when he or she is around one to two years old. As the MMR injection is given at around this age, it’s easy to understand why some parents thought there might be a link.
Where the MMR vaccine is available, no country recommends single rather than combined vaccines.
There are a number of reasons why the vaccines in the combined MMR aren’t routinely given separately in the UK.
If you or your child has had a single vaccine in the past for measles, mumps or rubella, having the full MMR vaccine at a later date will cause no harm. It’s recommended to wait at least four weeks from when you have a single vaccine until you have the MMR vaccine.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see Common questions.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
Publication date: December 2011