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MMR Content Supplied by NHS Choices

MMR is the combined vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

Since the vaccine was introduced in 1988, the number of children who develop these conditions has fallen to an all-time low.

Measles, mumps and rubella are highly infectious, common conditions that can have serious complications, including meningitis, swelling of the brain (encephalitis) and deafness. They can also lead to complications in pregnancy that affect the unborn baby and can lead to miscarriage. 

Read more about why the MMR vaccine is needed.

When is the MMR given?

The first MMR vaccine is given to children as part of the routine vaccination schedule, usually within a month of their first birthday. They'll then have a booster dose before starting school, which is usually between three and five years of age.

The MMR can sometimes be given earlier than their first birthday if you think that your child has been exposed to the measles virus.  

The vaccine is given as a single injection into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm.

As well as young children needing the MMR vaccine, women who are thinking about getting pregnant may also need to be vaccinated if they have low levels of rubella antibodies or they haven't had a rubella vaccination or MMR.

Also needing the vaccine are people born between 1970 and 1979 who may have only been vaccinated against measles, as well as people born between 1980 to 1990 who may not be protected against mumps.

Check with your GP if you're not sure whether you've had rubella or MMR.

Read more about when the MMR vaccine is needed.

The MMR vaccine

The MMR vaccine contains weakened versions of live measles, mumps and rubella viruses.

The vaccine works by triggering the immune system (the body's natural defence against infection and illness) to produce antibodies against measles, mumps and rubella.  

If you come into contact with one of the diseases, your immune system will recognise it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight it.

It's not possible for people who have recently had the vaccine to infect other people.

MMR and autism

There has been some controversy about the MMR vaccine and autism following a study published in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield. He claimed that his initial findings appeared to show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and bowel disease.

However, Andrew Wakefield's work has since been completely discredited. Subsequent studies during the last eight years have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or bowel disease.

Single vaccines

Single vaccines are not routinely given in the UK. They're not available on the NHS due to the risk that fewer children would receive all the necessary injections, increasing the levels of measles, mumps and rubella in the UK.

The delay in having six separate injections would also put more children at risk of developing the conditions as well as increasing the amount of work and inconvenience for parents and those administering the vaccines. 

Side effects

As there are three separate vaccines, different side effects can occur at different times. Side effects are usually mild. It's important to remember that they're milder than the potential complications of measles, mumps and rubella.

Side effects include:

  • developing a mild form of measles that lasts for two to three days
  • developing a mild form of mumps that lasts for a day or two

In rare cases, a small rash of bruise-like spots may appear a number of weeks after the injection. See your GP if you notice this kind of rash or if you have any concerns about your child's symptoms following the MMR.

Read more about how MMR is performed and the potential side effects of MMR.

You can find the answers to many other common questions about MMR on the frequently asked questions page.

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