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Information about MMR

The MMR vaccine protects your child against Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR).

The MMR vaccine is highly effective and it had been responsible for almost wiping out the three diseases since it was introduced in 1988.

What is the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine contains weakened versions of live measles, mumps and rubella viruses. Because the viruses are weakened, people who have recently had the vaccine cannot infect other people.

Will the MMR vaccine have any side effects?

The three different viruses in the vaccine act at different times and may produce the following side effects:

  • Six to 10 days after the immunisation, some children may become feverish (this happens to about one in ten children). Some develop a measles-like rash and go off their food as the measles part of the vaccine starts to work.

  • About one in every 1,000 immunised children may have a fit caused by the fever. This is called a ‘febrile convulsion’ which most children come through unaffected. However, if a child has not been immunised and gets measles, they are five times more likely to have a fit.

  • Rarely, children may get mumps-like symptoms (fever and swollen glands) about three weeks after their immunisation as the mumps part of the vaccine starts to work.

  • Children may very rarely get a rash of small bruise-like spots in the six weeks after the vaccination. This is usually caused by the measles or rubella parts of the vaccine. If you see spots like these, take your child to the doctor to be checked. He or she will tell you how to deal with the problem and protect your child in the future.

  • Fewer than one child in a million is reported to have encephalitis (infection of the brain) after the MMR vaccine. There is very little evidence that it is the vaccine that causes encephalitis. However, if a child catches measles the chance of developing encephalitis is between one in 200 and one in 5,000.

  • In a study of over 8,000 children, there was no increased risk of convulsions, rash or joint pain in the months after the second dose of the MMR vaccination given between four and six years of age.

How and when is the vaccine given?

The vaccine is injected into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm. It is given to a child at around 12 months of age after the immunity the baby got from their mother fades. It is given again three months after the first dose but can be given up to five years.

What if my child is ill on the day of the clinic or appointment?

If your child has a minor illness without a fever, such as a cold, they should have their immunisations as normal. If your child is ill with a fever, put off the immunisation until the child has recovered. This is to avoid the fever being associated with the vaccine, or the vaccine increasing the fever your child already has.

What if my baby is allergic to eggs?

The MMR vaccine can safely be given to children who have had a severe allergy (anaphylactic reaction) to eggs. If you have concerns, talk to your health visitor, practice nurse or doctor.

Sorting the facts from the myths

Myth

Getting protection by catching the diseases is better than having the vaccine.

Fact

MMR immunisation is the safest way that parents can protect their children against measles, mumps and rubella – diseases that can be serious for babies, young children and their families.

Myth

Giving three viruses at the same time is too much for young children's immune system

Fact

A child’s immune system has huge capacity to deal with many more antigens than are in all the vaccines we use. Children can safely be given all of the combinations of vaccines that we use and will build a good response to these viruses. Over 500 million doses of MMR have been used in over 90 countries around the world since the early 1970s. The World Health Organization states that MMR is a highly effective vaccine with an outstanding safety record (WHO, 2001).

Myth

Other countries around the world give MMR as three separate vaccines.
Fact No country in the world recommends giving MMR vaccine as three separate injections.
Myth Measles, mumps and rubella are rare in the UK so you don't need to immunise kids against them.
Fact Children who are not immunised with MMR increase the chance that others will get the diseases. Before MMR, pregnant women would catch rubella from their own children.
Myth MMR causes autism and bowel disease.
Fact There is no evidence that the vaccine causes bowel disease and there is lots of evidence that it doesn’t. The evidence is that MMR vaccine does not cause autism or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). There are now numerous studies that do not support a link between autism and IBD and the MMR vaccine (CSM, 1999; Gillberg and Heijbel, 1998; Taylor et al, 1999; Davis et al, 2001; DeWilde et al, 2001).
Myth There was a scientific paper that showed a real link between MMR and autism and bowel disease.
Fact The Wakefield et al study published in the Lancet in 1998 actually said: 'We did not prove an association between MMR vaccine and the syndrome described' and none of the studies since have found a link. Berelowitz, one of the contributors to the Wakefield study, has subsequently said: 'I am certainly not aware of any convincing evidence for the hypothesis of a link between MMR and autism...' (Berelowitz, 2001).
Myth Giving the MMR vaccines separately reduces the risk of side effects.
Fact Single vaccines in place of MMR put children and their families at increased and unnecessary risk. There is no difference between the risk of a single vaccine and of MMR. In fact there may be more risk from the single vaccines; we do not have any confidence that the crucial COLD-CHAIN has been in place for single vaccines, so these vaccines may not be effective. This could leave a child open to infection if the vaccine was not effective. The combined vaccine is safer as it reduces the risk of children catching the diseases while they are waiting for full immunisation cover.
Myth The vaccine was not properly tested before it was licensed.
Fact The normal procedure for licensing was used for MMR and the vaccine was thoroughly tested before being introduced into the UK in 1988. MMR is now probably the most-tested medicine in the world. Safety is constantly monitored.
Myth My child has already received one dose so there is no need for a second one.
Fact Two doses of MMR vaccine are needed to give children the best protection before they go to school. 85 to 90% of children do not respond to the first dose of the vaccine. 90% of those who did not respond to the first dose are protected by the second. Those with low antibodies after the first dose will be boosted.

Get in touch

Lewisham Immunisation Helpline

Opening hours:

9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

Telephone: