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MMR - measles, mumps and rubella vaccine

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is one of the routine NHS childhood vaccinations.

The three-in-one MMR vaccine is given as a single injection into the baby's thigh or upper arm at around 13 months old with a second dose between three and five years old before the child starts school.

Adults who have not had the vaccination or who only have immunity to some of the diseases may also be recommended to have the MMR jab.

In areas of the country where there have been outbreaks of measles among unvaccinated children, special catch-up vaccination programmes have been arranged.

What are measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella are viral diseases. All have the potential to be very serious.

Measles is characterised by an increased temperature, cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis, and a red, pinpoint rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. If the measles virus infects the lungs, it can cause pneumonia. Some older children infected with the virus suffer from encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which can cause seizures and permanent brain damage.

The mumps virus usually causes swelling in the salivary or parotid glands, just below the ears, giving the appearance of “hamster face.” Before the development of the mumps vaccine, mumps was the most common cause of viral meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and acquired deafness. In men, mumps can infect the testicles, which can affect fertility.

Rubella is also known as German measles. In children, rubella infection causes a mild rash on the face, swelling of glands behind the ears and in some cases swelling of the small joints and a low-grade fever. Most children recover quickly from rubella with no lasting effects. If a pregnant woman gets rubella, however, the results can be devastating. If she is infected during the first trimester of pregnancy, there is a greater chance her child will have a birth defect such as blindness, deafness, heart defect, or brain damage.

Who should and shouldn't get the MMR vaccine

If you're not sure if you have had the diseases or the vaccines (the triple jab was introduced in 1988), you can get the MMR vaccine as an adult. You should speak to your GP about the vaccine if:

  • You were born after 1956. (If you were born during or before 1956, you are presumed to be immune, because many children had the diseases then.)
  • You are a health worker.
  • You are planning to or may become pregnant.

You should not receive the jab if:

  • You are very ill.
  • You experienced a severe allergic reaction following the first MMR jab.
  • You are allergic to the antibiotics neomycin or kanamycin.
  • You may be pregnant or are planning to become pregnant in the next four weeks. (The vaccine is safe if you are breastfeeding.)
  • You have had an injection of immunoglobulin or another blood product in the previous three months.
  • Your immune system is suppressed because of disease or medical treatment.
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