Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine

Your health expert: Dr Melanie Hill , Bupa Clinics GP
Content editor review by Pippa Coulter, May 2022
Next review due May 2025

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a single, combined vaccine that protects against all three diseases. In the UK, the MMR vaccine is offered as part of the NHS childhood immunisation programme. If you didn’t have the MMR vaccine when you were a baby, you can have it when you’re older.

Why have the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect against measles, mumps and rubella. Before the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988, there were single vaccines for measles and rubella but all three diseases were still common. It’s now rare for children to develop them although outbreaks do happen when the number of people having the vaccine drops.

If you haven’t had the vaccine, you’re at much greater risk of developing measles, mumps and rubella. Having the vaccine also helps to protect those who are unable to have it (see our section on people who shouldn’t have the vaccine).

Measles, mumps and rubella are all viruses that are spread by coughs and sneezes. There’s no cure for them – you can only treat the symptoms while you recover from the illness. Although most people recover from these diseases without any long-term effects, each one can have some serious consequences and may even be fatal.


Measles can cause a fever, cold-like symptoms, red, sore eyes, and a rash. This usually starts on your face and spreads down your body ending up on your hands and feet within a few days. Most people feel better about a week after the rash develops. But for around 1 in 15 people, measles can go on to cause some potentially serious complications. These can include diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia and, less commonly, seizures (fits) and inflammation of the brain. If you catch measles as an adult, it’s likely to be more severe and you’re at greater risk of complications.

Measles is highly contagious. About 90 in every 100 people who aren’t vaccinated against measles will catch it if they come into contact with it. Seven of these people will also develop complications.


Not everyone who gets mumps gets symptoms, but many people develop a fever and feel generally unwell. It’s common to have swollen salivary glands (the glands on either side of your face, just below your ears). Common complications can include swollen testicles or ovaries, which may affect fertility. The infection can also cause viral meningitis, inflammation of the brain and hearing loss.

Mumps is a contagious infection. Before the MMR vaccine was introduced, more than 80 in 100 people used to catch the disease.

Rubella (German measles)

Rubella is sometimes known as German measles. It’s usually a mild infection. Some people don’t get any symptoms at all. Or you may just get cold-like symptoms and a rash for a few days. But it can be very dangerous if you catch it in early pregnancy because it can cause miscarriage or serious disabilities in babies. These include blindness, deafness and learning difficulties.

Before the introduction of MMR, around 200 to 300 babies a year were born with complications due to rubella.

How can I get the MMR vaccine?

Children should be offered the MMR vaccine through their GP surgery as part of the routine immunisation schedule. Your child will need two doses of MMR to be sure they have full protection. Children are invited to have the first dose on or soon after their first birthday. They should then have a second pre-school dose when they’re three years and four months old (or soon after).

If you have an older child who hasn’t had the full MMR vaccine, contact your GP surgery to get it. Older children may also be offered missing doses of MMR through school, alongside other booster doses.

You can also choose to have the MMR vaccine as an adult. You may already be immune to measles, mumps and rubella if you had the diseases as a child. If you were born before 1970, you may have had single vaccines for measles and rubella. You can ask your GP to check your vaccination status. If you have the MMR vaccine as an older child or adult, you’ll have a gap of at least a month between doses.

If you’re planning for pregnancy, it’s especially important to make sure you get vaccinated before getting pregnant. This is to protect yourself against rubella, which can be dangerous in pregnancy. If you’re already pregnant and don’t have any record of being vaccinated, you can get it soon after your baby is born. It’s not recommended that you have the MMR vaccine when you’re pregnant.

Young children have the vaccination as a single injection into their thigh. Older children and adults have it in their upper arm. The MMR vaccine for adults is the same as that for children.

Under 18 GP Appointments

We now offer GP appointments for children aged between 1 and 18 via our remote video service (UK wide) and face to face appointments at selected centres. Please note that these appointments cannot be booked online so please call 0330 822 3072 for more information or to book. Lines are open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 5pm. We may record and monitor our calls. Available from £49.

To book or to make an enquiry, call us on 0343 253 8381

How does the MMR vaccine work?

The MMR vaccine is a live vaccine made from weakened forms of each of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. They’re not strong enough to actually cause these different infections. Just to stimulate your immune system and trigger immunity. This means that if you come into contact with any of the three viruses in the future, your immune system will recognise it and protect you from getting the disease.

You need two doses of the MMR vaccine to make sure you get full protection from measles, mumps and rubella. Most people develop immunity after the first dose, but not everybody does. After the second dose, more than 99 out of 100 people will be completely protected against measles and rubella. Protection against mumps is slightly lower, but mumps is much less severe if you’ve had the vaccine.

If you’ve received two doses of the MMR vaccine, you should be protected for life. You won’t need another booster dose.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t have the MMR vaccination?

There are some people who shouldn’t have the MMR vaccine or should check with a doctor first. For example, check if any of the following applies to you.

  • You’re pregnant – to be cautious, it’s advised that you don’t have the vaccine when pregnant. But available data show there are no safety concerns. So don’t worry if you find out you’re pregnant after having it.
  • You have a severely weakened immune system – for instance, if you take immunosuppressant medicines.
  • You’ve had a severe allergic reaction to gelatine (a substance used in some vaccines) or an antibiotic called neomycin.
  • You’ve had a severe allergic reaction to an MMR vaccine before. In this case, you’ll need to be assessed by an allergy doctor first.

The MMR vaccine is grown in the laboratory on chick cells (not egg white or yolk). Studies show the vaccine is safe for children with an egg allergy. In the past, people with an egg allergy were advised not to have the MMR vaccine, but this advice changed years ago. There isn’t enough egg protein in the vaccine to cause an allergic reaction.

You can still have the MMR vaccination if you have a minor illness. But you might want to delay it if you’re very ill with a fever. Call your GP surgery to check if you’re unsure.

Side-effects of MMR

The MMR vaccine contains weakened, live viruses. You or your child may experience some mild effects of the viruses after the vaccination. This is to be expected and is a sign that the vaccination has worked. The three viruses in the vaccine act at different times and may produce different MMR vaccine side-effects as they start to work. These side-effects include the following.

  • Fever and/or rash and generally feeling unwell. If you’re affected, it will usually be about a week after the vaccination and will only last for around 2 to 3 days. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any symptoms of fever.
  • Swollen glands. Swollen glands usually happen around three weeks after you had the MMR vaccine. Again, this should only last for a short time.
  • Febrile convulsions. These are seizures or fits that are linked to fevers in children. About 1 in every 1,000 children who have the MMR vaccine has a febrile convulsion within 6 to 11 days. these convulsions can be scary and upsetting to see but they don’t cause any long-term harm. Infection with the measles virus is far more likely to cause febrile convulsions than having the MMR vaccine.
  • Bruise-like rash. There’s a very small risk of developing a condition called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). It usually happens within six weeks of having the MMR vaccination. ITP causes a rash that looks like tiny bruises and will get better on its own. This rash is more common with measles or rubella than with the vaccine.

Side-effects of the vaccine are usually mild. Most importantly, they aren’t as serious as the potential consequences of having measles, mumps or rubella. You’re less likely to get side-effects after the second dose of the vaccine. If you’re concerned about any symptoms after MMR vaccine, contact your GP surgery.

MMR and autism

There’s overwhelming evidence that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. But research published in the past wrongly suggested there may be a link between the two. This led to fewer parents getting their children vaccinated with MMR. As a result, there was an increase in the number of people who got measles and mumps in the following years. There has since been lots of research into whether there could be a link between MMR and autism, and no connection has been found.

Single vaccines

The MMR vaccine is given as a combined vaccine, rather than a series of single ones. No country in the world recommends giving vaccines against the three infections separately. This is due to the following reasons.

  • You or your child would need to have six injections in total. This is more unpleasant because each injection can be uncomfortable and possibly distressing for children.
  • There may be more delay before being completely vaccinated. This would leave you or your child at risk of measles, mumps and rubella for longer.
  • It could result in fewer children having all the necessary vaccinations. This would increase the level of measles, mumps and rubella in the UK.
  • Single vaccines haven’t been researched very well. For example, there isn’t any guidance about how they should be given or how much of a gap is needed between injections. Also, there isn’t enough evidence to say how effective or safe they are

All the evidence shows that the MMR vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect you or your child against measles, mumps and rubella. The only single vaccines available in the UK are unlicensed products that have been imported into the country. This means they haven’t been independently tested for how safe they are or how well they work. It’s important to be aware of this if you are considering using these products.

If you haven’t been immunised with the MMR vaccine, you should have it before you travel. These diseases are still common in other areas of the world where immunisation levels aren’t so high. You may be at risk if you travel abroad and aren’t immunised.

It can be worthwhile getting the MMR vaccine as an adult if you’re not already immune to measles, mumps and rubella. You won’t be immune if you’ve never had these diseases nor had vaccines for them. Getting the vaccine will help to protect you and others. For more information, see our section on how to get the MMR vaccine.

Yes. So long as you’ve had both doses of the MMR vaccine, this should protect you for life. You won’t need to have any further booster vaccines. For more information, see our section on how the MMR vaccine works.

Children usually have the MMR booster when they’re around three years and four months old. If your child missed it at this age, you can ask for them to have it when they’re older. If you’re having the MMR vaccine as an older child or adult, there must be at least a month between doses. For more information, see our section on how to get the MMR vaccine.

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