MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine

Sep 23, 2009 at 11:52 a.m. ET

The childhood vaccination commonly known as MMR protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

Boy with measles

Who gets it?

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella and is normally given to children in two doses -- one at 12 months of age and one at 18 months. The vaccine also can be administered to pregnant women who are not immune to rubella and older children (or adults born after 1956) who have not been vaccinated.

The following people should not receive this vaccine:

  • Those who have had a severe reaction to any component of the vaccine (measles, mumps or rubella)
  • Those who have a weakened immune system (due to disease or medical treatment)
  • Those who have had a blood transfusion in the past 12 months
  • Those who have had a drop in blood cells
  • Women who are pregnant

What are the symptoms?

Measles, mumps and rubella are all viruses that can be spread through the air by coughing and sneezing.

Measles symptoms include fever, rash and cold-like symptoms, and can lead to ear infections and/or pneumonia. More serious conditions can lead to inflammation of the brain.

Mumps symptoms include headaches, fever, and swelling of the salivary glands and cheeks. Mumps also can cause temporary deafness, and in serious cases, can lead to inflammation of the brain.

Rubella (aka German measles) symptoms are similar to that of regular measles. In pregnant women, infection can cause birth defects including deafness, eye problems, heart defects, liver problems and brain damage.

Vaccine recommendation

The MMR vaccine (as well as other immunizations recommended for children) have been the subject of debate as to whether they cause autism. However, scientific studies by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the UK National Health Service, and the Cochrane Library have found no link between the vaccine and autism. The MMR vaccine is still recommended as a safe and effective way to prevent these sometimes life-threatening diseases.

What you need to know

Side effects of the MMR vaccine include soreness and swelling of injection area, mild fever, rash, swelling of glands in the cheek or neck, and joint stiffness.