The MMR vaccine is a combined vaccine that protects against three highly infectious childhood diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. These diseases are known to cause severe complications in some children and all three used to be very common in early childhood.
Measles, mumps, and rubella are all viral infections, usually spread by coughing and sneezing and other cold-like symptoms.
Of the three diseases, measles is the most severe, and in the year before the vaccine was introduced in the UK 99 people died of measles and its associated complications. Measles remains one of the biggest causes of childhood mortality worldwide, and the World Health Organization estimates that around 400 people die from measles every day.
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The MMR vaccine was first introduced in the UK in 1988, and is part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule. The first dose of the MMR is usually given at the age of 12 to 13 months. The vaccine has been proven to be less effective on children under 1 year of age. The second dose of the vaccine is given at the age of 3 years and 4 months or above.
Adults can be given the two doses of the vaccine one month apart.
The MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection from measles, mumps and rubella.
Since the introduction of the MMR vaccine, cases of measles, mumps and rubella have dropped significantly. However, due to lower vaccination rates in recent years measles infections have risen, particularly in urban areas. Last year there were 3 deaths in the UK from measles.
After two doses the MMR vaccine is effective against measles and rubella in 99% of cases, and effective in 88% of cases of mumps. For those who do catch mumps after getting the vaccine, the symptoms are usually less severe.
For people who only get one dose, the MMR vaccine is effective in 93% of cases.
The most common side effects of the MMR vaccine are:
The area where the vaccine was given looks swollen and red, and feels sore for 2-3 days.
Less common side effects include developing a mild form of measles mumps or rubella.
This happens to up to 1 in 10 people at each dose, and any symptoms usually pass after 2-3 days. The infection is not contagious and cannot be passed on to others.
Mild measles symptoms: Some children might develop a mild form of measles around 7-11 days after receiving the vaccine. This could be a rash, high temperature, or a general feeling of being unwell that can last 2-3 days.
Mild mumps symptoms: Around 3 to 4 weeks after injection, some people can get a slight temperature and swollen neck and face.
Mild rubella symptoms: Some women can develop sore joints between 1 and 3 weeks after injection. This is rarely seen in children, and usually passes after 3 days.
Rare MMR vaccine side effects:
In very rare cases (around 1 in 24,000) people can develop a rash of small bruise-like spots after getting the MMR vaccine.
In 1 in 1,000 cases there is a chance of having a seizure 6 to 11 days after getting the MMR vaccine.
It is very rare to have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. It is however important to let your doctor know if you or your child has an allergy to gelatine or an antibiotic called neomycin. In the event of a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, health workers are trained to treat them immediately. Children with a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to the MMR vaccine should be assessed by a specialist.
The MMR vaccine is safe for people with severe egg allergies.
There is no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. An initial study which claimed a link between the vaccine and the developmental disorder was released in 1998, and since then a number of further studies have shown there is no statistical link between children receiving the MMR vaccine and the development of autism. The doctor responsible for the study has been struck off the medical register.
The National Autistic Society has released a statement saying that there “is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine”.
Children in the UK receive the MMR vaccine as part of the childhood vaccination schedule:
First dose at 1 year of age
Second dose at the age of 3 years and 4 months
If you have not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, you should arrange to have them as soon as possible.
It is particularly important to have the MMR vaccine if:
You are about to go to university
You are about to travel to a country where measles is endemic
You are planning to get pregnant
You are a front line medical or social worker
You were born between 1970 and 1979, as you might have only received the measles vaccine
You were born between 1980 and 1990, as you may not have received a vaccine for mumps
If you accidentally have more than two doses of the MMR vaccine, it will not do you any harm.
You should not have the MMR vaccine if:
You have a weakened immune system
The MMR vaccine is a live vaccine, and is not recommended for people who are immunocompromised (such as those receiving chemotherapy).
You are pregnant
The MMR vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women as a precaution. You should wait at least 1 month after you give birth to get the vaccine.
If you need to get the MMR vaccine, you can book a vaccination appointment at your local pharmacy.
If you would like to discuss your specific requirements with a medical advisor, book a free telephone consultation. A Practio nurse will give an individual assessment of your needs and recommend a suitable vaccination programme.
£40 per dose
Anne Marie Major, Independent Nurse Prescriber
18 August 2020