The MMR vaccine



This vaccine protects children against 3 different infections/diseases, and is usually given as two separate injections. Within the Irish vaccination schedule, the MMR vaccine is administered to babies when they are 12 months old, and children are given a booster MMR vaccine when they are 4-5 years old.

The MMR vaccine provides protection against:

      1.  Measles

      2.  Mumps

      3.  Rubella

1. Measles Measles is incredibly infectious and can cause serious disease and death in some cases (1 or 2 children in every 1,000 with measles will die, even with treatment). Unfortunately measles outbreaks are becoming more common due to reduced vaccination rates. The first measles vaccines were licensed in 1963. Although at first both inactivated (containing 'dead' virus) and live attenuated (the virus has been weakened in the laboratory before being made into a vaccine) vaccines were licensed in the USA, the inactivated vaccine was later withdrawn from the market because it wasn't very effective. Current measles vaccines are live attenuated vaccines and are very effective, giving lifelong immunity to the disease.

2. Mumps There is no cure for mumps, and it can lead to meningitis and permanent organ damage, which is why it is routinely vaccinated against in developed countries. An inactivated vaccine (the virus is killed by chemical treatment or heat) against mumps was developed in 1948. This vaccine produced only short-lasting immunity, and its use was discontinued in the mid-1970s. Current MMR vaccines contain live attenuated mumps virus (the virus has been weakened in the laboratory before being made into a vaccine) and are very effective, giving lifelong immunity to the disease.

3. Rubella The name rubella means "little red" in Latin. Rubella was first believed to be a kind of measles or scarlet fever, and was described by German doctors, which is why it is sometimes called "German measles". The first rubella vaccines were licensed in 1969, and the vaccines are live attenuated (the virus has been weakened in the laboratory before being made into a vaccine) and very effective, giving lifelong immunity to the disease.

Rubella causes very serious disease in pregnant women and can cause devastating permanent damage to unborn babies - for this reason rubella vaccines are used worldwide. Although there is no evidence of harm being caused to unborn babies if women receive the vaccine while pregnant, it has been shown that the virus could pass across the placenta. Therefore, it is best to avoid MMR vaccination if you know you are pregnant.

There is absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Unfortunately widespread belief that there is a link came about by publication of false data by a UK doctor who was subsequently barred from practicing medicine. Lingering belief in a link has reduced vaccination rates in some places, resulting in outbreaks of disease. Please see our Vaccines and Autism page for detailed discussion about this issue.

There is also no evidence of any transmission of the measles or mumps viruses from vaccinated people to unvaccinated people. There is evidence that the rubella virus could be passed from a mother to her baby across the placenta or through breastmilk if she receives the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding (though it has never caused disease in the baby, and this transmission is very rare) - so the MMR vaccine is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.

There are two MMR vaccines licensed for use in Ireland - the PRIORIX vaccine, sold by GlaxoSmithKline (available in Ireland since 2002), and M-M-RVAXPRO, sold by Sanofi Pasteur MSD (available in Ireland since 2006). Both contain live attenuated measles, mumps and rubella viruses.

The MMR vaccine is not recommended for children under 9 months old, but if you are planning to travel to an area where any of these diseases are common (or if there is an outbreak of disease here), babies can receive the vaccine between 9-12 months, and then will need a booster dose when they are 1-2 (at least one month after the first dose). Speak to your doctor about your travel plans if you are unsure. The MMR vaccines can provide some protection against measles up to 72 hours after exposure - speak immediately to your doctor if you think you or your child has been exposed to the virus and you aren't already fully vaccinated against measles.

Side effects: Most common side effects are mild and temporary. They are a result of the child's immune system responding to the vaccination, and making antibodies that will protect the child in the future. Most side effects will ease after a day or two and any discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (ask your pharmacist for medicine appropriate for your child's age).

Before getting the vaccination, speak to your doctor if your child has been sick or 'off form' over the past few days. Illness can reduce the effectiveness of a vaccine. The nurse or doctor administering the vaccine will check your child's temperature first, to see if they may have any other infections or illnesses.

Common side effects of the MMR vaccines that are usually no cause for concern are high temperature (over 38oC), swelling/pain/redness/bruising at injection site and rash.

Remember that the benefits of receiving vaccines that protect your child from serious diseases hugely outweigh any mild side effects from vaccination.

Rarer side effects of the MMR vaccines include diarrhoea, vomiting, cough, unusual crying (baby 'off form' and difficult to settle), conjunctivitis (eye infection), sore throat, runny nose. These side effects are rare and have been reported in very few children.

If you are concerned about your child, contact your doctor or local hospital for advice.

Allergies to substances within vaccines can occur, though they are very rare (they happen in fewer than 1 in 10,000 people receiving the vaccine). An allergic reaction to a vaccine would happen quickly - probably before you left the GP's surgery. Signs of an allergic reaction may include itchy skin, rash, shortness of breath and swelling of the face or tongue.

Before getting the vaccination, speak to your doctor if your child has experienced any allergic reactions previously.

If you are concerned about your child, contact your doctor or local hospital for advice.

Vaccines are tested exhaustively before they are provided to the public (it normally takes 10-15 years to develop a new vaccine). Clinical trials of M-M-RVAXPRO were carried out initially on nearly 2,000 children, and PRIORIX has been tested on 12,000 children to collect data on possible side effects, such as those listed above; both vaccines are part of routine vaccination schedules in several countries including Ireland and the UK. In more than 90 countries worldwide, over 500 million doses of MMR vaccines have been given. The World Health Organisation estimates that 2-3 million deaths are prevented each year by vaccines.

Information on MMR vaccination from the HSE (Ireland):
http://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/babychildimm/vaccprevdisease/mmr/

Information on MMR vaccination from the NHS (UK):
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/mmr-vaccine.aspx

Information on the MMR vaccine from the CDC (USA):
https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mmr.html

Information on MMR vaccine safety from the CDC (USA):
https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/mmr-vaccine.html

Information on immunisation against measles, mumps and rubella from the World Health Organisation:
http://www.who.int/biologicals/areas/vaccines/mmr/en/

Safety statement from the World Health Organisation about MMR and claims of its link with autism:
http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/committee/topics/mmr/mmr_autism/en/

M-M-RvaxPro vaccine Patient Information Leaflet:
http://www.medicines.ie/medicine/13242/PIL/MMRvaxpro/

M-M-RvaxPro vaccine Summary of Product Characteristics:
http://www.medicines.ie/medicine/13343/SPC/MMRvaxpro/

PRIORIX vaccine Patient Information Leaflet:
http://www.medicines.ie/medicine/8196/PIL/Priorix+PFS/

PRIORIX vaccine Summary of Product Characteristics:
http://www.medicines.ie/medicine/6879/SPC/Priorix+PFS/