The MMR vaccine is a combined immunisation shot against the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. Although most people recover from each of these illnesses, they can be unpleasant and have serious consequences. The introduction of the MMR vaccine has meant that measles, mumps and rubella are all less common these days.
The MMR vaccine is an injection that protects against catching measles, mumps and rubella. It works by introducing a small dose of live, but weakened, measles, mumps and rubella viruses into your body. This triggers your immune system to make antibodies so it can fight these viruses if you come into contact with them later on.
The MMR vaccine is used worldwide in more than 90 countries and research suggests that almost everyone who's had a complete MMR immunisation is successfully protected against these diseases.
In Australia, children are immunised against measles, mumps and rubella as part of the Immunise Australia program. The MMR vaccine is given as a course of two injections. The first injection of vaccine is usually given at around 12 months of age. A second booster dose is usually given at the age of four.
Sometimes, children need to be protected quickly against a measles outbreak before they've received their booster dose of vaccine. In these cases, a second dose of vaccine can be given before the age of four. Children who receive this second dose before the age of 18 months should still also receive the routine dose at four years of age.
Babies between six and 12 months can also have the vaccine early if they've been exposed to someone with measles. This should be done within three days of contact and can prevent your baby from becoming seriously ill with the measles. It also helps to control the spread of outbreaks. Talk to your GP if you think your baby has come into contact with someone who has measles.
Babies can't have the vaccine early to prevent mumps or rubella if they've been exposed to someone with these infections. This is because the vaccine works too slowly to be effective in these situations.
The combined MMR vaccine has not always been available in Australia. If you can't find any documentation to say you've been immunised, or if a blood test shows you're not immune, your GP can give you an MMR vaccination.
If you're thinking about pregnancy, check with your GP to see if you're immune to measles, mumps and rubella. It's especially important to check your status for rubella. Catching rubella in the early stages of pregnancy can cause serious harm to your unborn baby. To check your immunity to these diseases, your doctor can give you a simple blood test. If you're already pregnant or think you might become pregnant within one month, you shouldn't have the vaccine.
Although most people can have the MMR vaccine, there are some who shouldn't. These include:
Talk to your GP if you're not sure whether you or your family should have the vaccine.
The first dose of the MMR vaccine is likely to give 90 percent of those receiving it immunity against measles and mumps, and 97 percent of people immunity against rubella. After the second dose, 99 percent of recipients will be protected against all three illnesses.
Since the MMR vaccine was introduced in Australia, the number of children catching measles, mumps and rubella has fallen to very low levels, although some adults who were not immunised as children remain at risk of catching these illnesses. The introduction of the vaccine has also led to a drop in the number of babies born with serious disabilities caused when their mother developed rubella during pregnancy.
It's not possible to say whether any vaccine, including MMR, is absolutely safe. Some children do get side-effects, but these are usually mild. Side-effects are rare after the first dose and even less likely after the second. It's important to weigh up the benefits of vaccination and consider that the risks and complications of catching measles, mumps and rubella if you or your family aren't vaccinated can be more severe.
The table below compares the effects of measles, mumps and rubella with the side-effects of the vaccines.
|Disease||Effect of disease||Side-effect of vaccine|
Measles:Causes fever, cough and rash
Mumps:Causes swollen neck and salivary glands and fever
Rubella:Also known as german measles. Causes fever, rash and swollen glands
*adapted from The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 9th edition
Generally, an appropriate dose of a liquid paracetamol preparation for children can be used to treat pain or the symptoms of fever that can occur after vaccination. There are many different liquid paracetamol preparations and they aren't all the same strength, so it's important to always read the dosing instructions and give as directed on the bottle. If you have any questions or concerns about the medicines or your child's symptoms, talk to your pharmacist or GP.
The MMR vaccine is made using a protein related to egg. But research shows it's safe to give the vaccine to nearly all children, even those who have a very severe reaction to eggs.
If your child has a severe egg allergy, tell your GP or early childhood nurse. They can make special arrangements to give your child the MMR vaccine safely, in hospital if necessary.
You may have heard of a suggested link between the MMR vaccine and autism. However, there's a great deal of scientific evidence available that shows no connection between them, based on the records of millions of MMR vaccinations.
A link between MMR vaccination and autism was suggested in 1998 when a group of doctors put forward a theory that MMR could lead to problems with brain development. The researchers stated in their paper that they hadn't proved a link between autism and the MMR vaccine; however, the resulting media attention gave the impression that there was one. This had led some parents to decide not to give their children the vaccine.
If your child has autism, you will usually start to notice the signs when they're around one to two years old. As the MMR injection is given at around this age, it's easy to understand why some parents thought they might be linked.
The number of people with autism seems to have been increasing over the last 20 years. However, this is thought to be because doctors are now more aware of the condition so can recognise and diagnose it more often.
Immunise Australia Program
Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA). The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 9th ed. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 2008 [Last updated Sept 2010, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Sourced from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook-home
Martin N Foxwell R. Measles status in Australia, and outbreaks in the first quarter of 2009. Communicable Diseases Intelligence. Jun 2009; 33(2). [online] Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/cda-cdi3302k.htm
National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). MMR Decision Aid - FAQ 1 - Questions about MMR vaccine. [online] Westmead, NSW: NCIRS. 2009 [Last updated Sept 2009, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.ncirs.edu.au/
National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. MMR vaccine, inflammatory bowel disease and autism. [online] Westmead, NSW: NCIRS. Dec 2009 [Accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.ncirs.edu.au/immunisation/fact-sheets/mmr-vaccine-ibd-autism-fact-sheet.pdf (PDF 78Kb)
NSW Therapeutic Advisory Group (TAG). Paracetamol use: A Position Statement of the NSW Therapeutic Advisory Group Inc. December 2008. [online] Darlinghurst, NSW: NSW TAG. Dec 2008 [Accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.ciap.health.nsw.gov.au/
Last published: 30 July 2011
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