The MMR vaccine is a safe and effective combined vaccine that protects against 3 serious and highly infectious illnesses: measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). These conditions can also lead to complications including meningitis, hearing loss and problems during pregnancy.
When should babies have the MMR vaccine?
The MMR vaccine is given to babies and young children in 2 doses:
- at 1 year (1st dose)
- at 3 years and 4 months (2nd dose)
Babies over 6 months old are sometimes given the MMR vaccine earlier than usual if:
- they may have been exposed to the measles virus
- there is an outbreak of measles
- they are travelling abroad to a country where measles is common
Having both doses gives long-lasting protection against measles, mumps and rubella.
Why are babies given the MMR vaccine at 1 year, plus 3 years and 4 months?
At 1 year
The antibodies passed on to newborn babies from their mother at birth helps protect them for a short time against measles, mumps and rubella. These antibodies make the MMR vaccine less effective if it is given to a newborn. However, by the time a child is 1 year old, these antibodies are almost gone, and the MMR vaccine will be effective.
At 3 years and 4 months
The 2nd dose of the vaccine is given at around 3 years and 4 months, before a child starts school and is exposed to a more expansive environment.
How is the vaccine given?
The MMR vaccine is given as 2 doses of a single injection into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm.
How well does the vaccine work?
The MMR vaccine is very effective. Protection against measles, mumps and rubella starts to develop around 2 weeks after having the MMR vaccine.
Is the vaccine safe?
The MMR vaccine is very safe. Most side effects are mild and do not last long.
- The injection site may appear red, swollen and feel sore for 2 to 3 days
- Around 7 to 11 days after the injection, babies or young children may seem a bit unwell or develop a high temperature for about 2 or 3 days.
The MMR vaccine is not linked to autism
There is no evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This has been investigated by several studies. Click here for a list of MMR studies and their findings on the Oxford University Vaccine Knowledge Project website.
When can older children and adults should have the MMR vaccine?
Anyone who has not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine should ask their GP for a vaccination appointment.
It is particularly important to check if you’ve had both doses if you are:
- about to start college or university
- going to travel abroad
- planning a pregnancy
- a frontline health or social care worker
If you were born between 1970 and 1979, as you may have only been vaccinated against measles.
If you were born between 1980 and 1990, as you may not be protected against mumps.
Can I have the MMR vaccine if I’m pregnant?
The MMR vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women.
You should also avoid becoming pregnant for 1 month after having the MMR vaccine.
Although eveidence suggests there will be no harm to your baby, it is advisable to let your GP or midwife know if you had the MMR vaccine while you were pregnant.
Can I have the vaccine if I have a wekaened immune system?
The MMR vaccine is not recommended for people with a severely weakened immune system (e.g. people receiving chemotherapy).
If you have a medical condition, or are taking medicine that may affect your immune system, check with your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to have the MMR vaccine.