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measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine

Alternative Names 
MMR immunisation, MMR vaccine, MMR vaccination

Vaccines contain weakened or dead germs that cause certain diseases. To fight these germs, a person's immune system creates antibodies which help the body rid itself of the germs and prevent infection. Some of these antibodies will stay in the body for use at a later time if needed. Later in life, if a child or adult is exposed to these diseases, the antibodies multiply and fight them off.

The combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is given to children or adults to prevent those three diseases. A series of two Injections are given at least one month apart. The vaccine protects against the discomforts and possibly serious complications of:
  • measles, which can cause rash, fever, ear infection, pneumonia, brain damage, and, rarely, death
  • mumps, which can cause swollen glands, fever, diseases that can damage the brain and nervous system, painfully swollen testicles or ovaries, and, rarely, death
  • rubella, which can cause rash, joint pain, diseases that can damage the brain and nerve cells, miscarriage, and serious birth defects in a foetus
Who is a candidate for the procedure? 
The vaccine protects best against these three diseases if the first Injection is given before a child is 2 years old.
  • one Injection when a child is 12 months old
  • a second Injection, or booster Injection, when a child is between 4 and 6 years old
Many people who were not vaccinated at these times can still benefit from vaccination. Measles causes more serious health problems among teens and adults than among children. Mumps is of special concern to males because it may cause infertility.

Rubella may cause miscarriage or birth defects if a woman catches it during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The best schedule for unvaccinated children and adults should be discussed with a doctor. A woman who is considering pregnancy should check with her doctor to be sure she is up to date on all of her immunisations. If she has not received the necessary doses of MMR vaccine, she should consider getting them prior to becoming pregnant. This will insure that the unborn baby is not put at risk should the mother develop one of these infections while pregnant. To be effective, the vaccine must be given at least 3 months prior to a woman becoming pregnant.

Not everyone should have the MMR vaccine. Vaccination should be discussed with a doctor if a child or adult:
  • has an immunodeficiency disorder or cancer
  • is being treated with steroids or other medications that affect the immune system
  • is pregnant or planning to get pregnant within the next 3 months
  • has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to certain substances, like eggs
  • has had one or more of the diseases covered by the vaccine
For individuals with an allergy to egg, vaccination is still recommended and this can be done under supervision at a major hospital. Almost all people who have a reported egg allergy experience no difficulties with MMR vaccination when given under these supervised circumstances.

How is the procedure performed? 
A single injection is given into the tissue just under the skin in the thigh or upper arm.

What happens right after the procedure? 
The site of the Injection may sting slightly. A band-aid is usually put on it to stop any bleeding.

What happens later at home? 
The vaccine causes few or no problems for most people. But any of these rare reactions should be reported right away to a doctor: What are the potential complications after the procedure? 
Often the vaccine causes no problems. Sometimes a fever, mild rash, or, rarely, swollen glands in the neck occur within 7 to 12 days. Temporary joint pain and stiffness is possible, too.

More rare complications include: Very rarely, the vaccine may cause these severe problems:
  • deafness
  • long-term seizures
  • coma
  • brain damage
There is no scientific evidence to validate that the MMR vaccination is associated with behavioural changes such as autism.

Author: Francesca Coltrera, BA
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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