Measle, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
Measles, mumps, and rubella are serious diseases.
Measles virus causes rash, cough, runny nose, eye irritation, and fever. It can lead to ear infection, pneumonia, seizures (jerking and staring), brain damage, and death.
Mumps virus causes fever, headache, and swollen glands. It can lead to deafness, meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord covering), painful swelling of the testicles or ovaries, and, rarely, death.
Rubella (German Measles)
Rubella virus causes rash, mild fever, and arthritis (mostly in women). If a woman gets rubella while she is pregnant, she could have a miscarriage or her baby could be born with serious birth defects. You or your child could catch these diseases by being around someone who has them. They spread from person to person through the air.
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine can prevent these diseases.
Most children who get their MMR shots will not get these diseases. Many more children would get them if we stopped vaccinating.
MMR vaccine recommendations
People should not get MMR vaccine who have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to:
- The antibiotic neomycin
- A previous dose of MMR vaccine
- People who are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting MMR vaccine.
- Pregnant women should wait to get MMR vaccine until after they have given birth. Women should not get pregnant for 3 months after getting MMR vaccine.
Some people should check with their doctor about whether they should get MMR vaccine, including anyone who:
- Has HIV/AIDS, or another disease that affects the immune system
- Is being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids, for 2 weeks or longer.
- Has any kind of cancer
- Is taking cancer treatment with x-rays or drugs
- Has ever had a low platelet count (a blood disorder)
Children should get 2 doses of MMR vaccine:
- The first at 12-15 months of age
- The second at 4-6 years of age.
These are the recommended ages. But children can get the second dose at any age, as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.
Some adults should also get MMR vaccine: Generally, anyone 18 years of age or older, who was born after 1956, should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine, unless they can show that they have had either the vaccines or the diseases. Ask your doctor or nurse for more information. MMR vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
Risks associated with the MMR vaccine
A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.
Getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting any of these three diseases.
Most people who get MMR vaccine do not have any problems with it.
- Fever (up to 1 person out of 6)
- Mild rash (about 1 person out of 20)
- Swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck (rare)
If these problems occur, it is usually within 7-12 days after the shot. They occur less often after the second dose.
Seizure (jerking or staring) caused by fever (about1 out of 3,000 doses)
Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, mostly in teenage or adult women (up to 1 out of 4)
Temporary low platelet count, which can cause a bleeding disorder (about 1 out of 30,000 doses)
Severe problems (very rare)
Serious allergic reaction (less than 1 out of a million doses)
Several other severe problems have been known to occur after a child gets MMR vaccine. But this happens so rarely, experts cannot be sure whether the vaccine causes them or not. These include:
- Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness
- Permanent brain damage
What to look for
After vaccination, be alert for any unusual conditions, such as a serious allergic reaction, high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat or dizziness within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. A high fever or seizure, if it occurs, would happen 1 or 2 weeks after the shot.
People who recently had a transfusion or were given other blood products should ask their doctor when they may get MMR vaccine Ask your doctor or nurse for more information.
What to do
Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away. Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given. Ask your doctor, nurse, or health department to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form, or call VAERS at 1-800-822-7967.
In the rare event that you or your child has a serious reaction to a vaccine, a federal program has been created to help you pay for the care of those who have been harmed. For details about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, call 1-800-338-2382.
Ask your doctor or nurse. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2001
Last reviewed July 2001 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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