Understanding the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) Vaccine

Why get vaccinated?

Vaccines are an essential tool in preventing diseases and promoting public health. The MMR vaccine, which stands for measles, mumps, and rubella, is particularly crucial.

Measles can cause symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes, and a body-covering rash. It can also lead to severe complications such as seizures, ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and in rare cases, brain damage or death.

Mumps can cause fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, and swollen salivary glands under the ears. It can potentially lead to deafness, swelling of the brain or spinal cord, and painful swelling of the testicles or ovaries.

Rubella, on the other hand, can cause fever, sore throat, rash, headache, and eye irritation. It can cause arthritis in up to half of teenage and adult women, and if contracted during pregnancy, it can result in miscarriage or serious birth defects in the baby.

Most people who are vaccinated with MMR will be protected for life. Thanks to vaccines and high rates of vaccination, these diseases have become much less common in the United States.

The MMR vaccine

Children typically require two doses of the MMR vaccine, with the first dose given at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Infants who will be traveling outside the United States when they are between 6 and 11 months old should also receive a dose of the MMR vaccine before travel. These children should still get 2 additional doses at the recommended ages for long-lasting protection.

Older children, adolescents, and adults also need 1 or 2 doses of the MMR vaccine if they are not already immune to measles, mumps, and rubella. Your health care provider can help you determine how many doses you need. In certain mumps outbreak situations, a third dose of MMR might be recommended.

MMR vaccine can be given simultaneously with other vaccines. Children aged between 12 months to 12 years might receive MMR vaccine together with varicella vaccine in a single shot, known as MMRV.

Talk with your health care provider

It's essential to provide your vaccination provider with accurate health information before receiving the vaccine. Let them know if the person getting the vaccine:

  • Has had an allergic reaction after a previous dose of MMR or MMRV vaccine or has any severe, life-threatening allergies
  • Is pregnant or thinks they might be pregnant—pregnant individuals should not get the MMR vaccine
  • Has a weakened immune system, or has a parent, brother, or sister with a history of hereditary or congenital immune system problems
  • Has ever had a condition that makes him or her bruise or bleed easily
  • Has recently had a blood transfusion or received other blood products
  • Has tuberculosis
  • Has gotten any other vaccines in the past 4 weeks

In some cases, your health care provider may decide to postpone MMR vaccination until a future visit.

Risks of a vaccine reaction

As with any medical procedure, there can be risks. After the MMR vaccination, you might experience a sore arm from the injection, redness at the injection site, fever, or a mild rash. Swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck or temporary pain and stiffness in the joints can sometimes occur.

More serious reactions happen rarely. These can include seizures (often associated with fever) or a temporary low platelet count that can cause unusual bleeding or bruising.

In people with serious immune system problems, this vaccine may cause an infection that may be life-threatening. People with serious immune system problems should not get the MMR vaccine. People sometimes faint after medical procedures, including vaccination.

What if there is a serious problem?

In the event of a severe allergic reaction such as hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the nearest hospital.

For other signs that concern you, call your health care provider. Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Your health care provider will usually file this report, or you can do it yourself. Visit the VAERS website or call 1-800-822-7967.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a federal program that was created to compensate people who may have been injured by certain vaccines. Visit the VICP website or call 1-800-338-2382 to learn about the program and about filing a claim.

For additional information, consider asking your health care provider, contacting your local or state health department, or visiting the websites of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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