Frequently asked questions about the MMR vaccine
The MMR vaccine is the safest and most effective method to prevent three infectious diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. All three of these diseases are highly contagious viral infections that can cause serious health complications and even lead to death.
The two doses of MMR vaccine provide lifelong protection against measles, mumps and rubella. After two doses, around 99% of people will be protected against measles and rubella, and 88% will be protected against mumps. Protection starts to develop around two weeks after receiving the MMR vaccine. 575 million children have been safely given the MMR vaccine worldwide since the 1970s, and an estimated 23.2 million deaths have been prevented with the MMR vaccination during 2008-2018.
What are the symptoms of these infectious diseases?
Measles: Symptoms include high fever, rash, cough and runny nose. In severe cases, measles can cause pneumonia or other respiratory infections, neurological complications and even be fatal.
Mumps: The most noticeable symptoms are swelling of cheeks and neck pain in the area between your ear and jaw. Other symptoms include headache, fever, loss of appetite, sore throat and painful chewing.
Rubella: Red rash appears on various parts of the body and aside from the rash, symptoms include a mild fever, nausea, headache and red, itchy eyes.
Measles, mumps and rubella can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and other people breathe the air containing the virus or touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose. Rubella can also be passed onto the unborn baby if a pregnant mother is infected. It can lead to miscarriage and cause serious problems after the baby is born, such as problems with their vision, hearing, heart or brain.
MMR is a safe and effective combined vaccine that protects from measles, mumps, and rubella. These diseases can cause severe harm, so vaccination against them is essential to help children grow healthy and protected. The benefit of a combined vaccine is that it protects children from different diseases with the same injection. This means less injections needed and more convenience for everyone!
Can children get the MMR and other vaccines if they are allergic to eggs or have mild infections (e.g. runny nose)?
Babies and children with minor coughs and cold or those on antibiotics can be immunized safely and effectively. WHO notes that egg allergy is not connected to any allergic reaction registered after vaccination and the child can be safely vaccinated. Children who had a severe allergic reaction (e.g. breathing difficulties, losing consciousness) after a previous dose of the MMR vaccine or to a vaccine component should avoid the MMR vaccination.
Vaccination should not be delayed until the child speaks. Delaying or skipping vaccination increases a child’s vulnerability to the disease. Once the child is infected with measles, it can cause serious complications and even lead to the child’s death. It is important to follow the country's immunization schedule. The first dose of the MMR vaccine should be given at 12 months and the second dose between 4-6 years of age.
The MMR vaccine can cause mild effects such as fever, mild rash, sore arm from the injection site and temporary pain in the joints. More severe allergic reactions including swelling, hives and trouble breathing are extremely rare. Mild side effects are common, and they occur because the vaccine works inside the body to create an immune response. Side effects usually go away in a day or two and can be addressed with an over-the-counter pain medication, if needed. There is no reason for a child to miss school after MMR vaccination. If side effects occur, they can be advised to rest, and school and any other activity can be resumed once the child feels better.
Live-attenuated vaccines are not dangerous because they contain very weakened (or attenuated) viruses or bacteria that cannot make us sick. The vaccine's job is to mimic an infection without making us feel ill with all the symptoms that would follow a real infection. Live attenuated vaccines are effective because they trigger a strong and lasting immune response. Just 1 or 2 doses of most live vaccines can give lifetime protection against a germ and the disease it causes. These vaccines are contraindicated in very few cases.
The MMR vaccine is not recommended for people who have had a reaction to the previous dose of the MMR vaccine, or people with a severely weakened immune system - this includes people with medical conditions such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and leukaemia and those who receive cancer treatment. Women who are pregnant, should not receive the MMR vaccine, and after receiving the vaccine, it is advised to wait for a minimum of four weeks to get pregnant.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.