The MMR vaccine gives protection against three serious diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella. Before the introduction of vaccines, all three diseases were extremely common and most people had them at some point, usually as children. Although many people survived without long-term effects, others were left with serious disabilities and some children died. Complications of measles include fatal pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). In the year before a vaccine was introduced in the UK, 99 people died from measles complications. Mumps can cause deafness and meningitis, and in the past rubella caused many babies to be born with serious abnormalities (known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome).
The vaccine can safely be given at the same time as other vaccines in the schedule (see the full UK routine schedule for details of the other vaccines). It is a combination vaccine, which reduces the number of injections a child needs. Read more about combination vaccines and multiple vaccinations and why these are not a risk to your baby's immune system.
MMR vaccines contain live measles, mumps and rubella viruses that have been weakened (attenuated). These stimulate the immune system but do not cause disease in healthy people. However, the MMR vaccine should not be given to people who are clinically immunosuppressed (see below).
Two brands of MMR vaccine are used in the UK: MMRVaxPro (see the Patient Information Leaflet ) and Priorix (see the Patient Information Leaflet ).
Measles outbreaks in the UK and Europe
Between 2001 and 2013 there was a sharp rise in the number of UK measles cases, and three people died. Numbers of cases have fallen since 2013, but rates of measles are still higher than they were in the late 1990s and seem to be rising again in 2018. In 2018 there were 966 laboratory confirmed measles cases in England - nearly four times as many as the total number confirmed in 2017 (259 cases). The majority of measles cases have been in people who are not vaccinated, especially young people aged 15 and over who missed out on MMR vaccination when they were younger. About 30% of those infected have been admitted to hospital.
At the moment most UK measles cases are linked to travel in Europe. Cases have also been linked to music festivals and other large public events. Public Health England is advising people to check that they are vaccinated against measles before they travel abroad or go to large public events in the UK or elsewhere.
Numbers of measles cases are currently high in several European countries. There were more than three times as many measles cases in 2017 as there were in 2016. In 2016 and 2017 there were 49 deaths from measles in Europe, and by November 2018 there had been another 33 deaths (see reports from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control ). There have been particularly serious outbreaks in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Italy, and France. Around 95% of cases have been in babies and children under 1 year of age who were not yet vaccinated. Travellers have brought a number of measles cases into the UK recently, and these are expected to continue.
Numbers of measles cases are currently high in several European countries. There were over 82,500 measles cases in Europe in 2018 . This is more than three times as many as in 2017, and 15 times as many as in 2016. In 2016 and 2017 there were 49 deaths from measles in Europe, and 2018 saw another 72 deaths. Some countries have reported that over 60% of measles cases have been hospitalised. See the regular reports from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control . There have been particularly serious outbreaks in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Italy, and France. Around 95% of cases have been in babies and children under 1 year of age who were not yet vaccinated. Travellers have brought a number of measles cases into the UK recently, and these are expected to continue.
Who should have the vaccine, and how many doses are needed?
Children get two doses of MMR vaccine. The first dose is given at 12-13 months in the UK schedule. The vaccine is not usually given earlier than this because studies have shown it does not work so well in children under 1 year of age. (See the short video under 'Is the vaccine safe?' at the bottom of the page.) A booster dose is given at 3 years and 4 months at the same time as the Pre-school booster.
The MMR vaccine should not be given to people who are clinically immunosuppressed (either due to drug treatment or underlying illness). This is because the weakened viruses in the vaccine could replicate too much and cause serious infection. This includes babies whose mothers have had immunosuppressive treatment while they were pregnant or breastfeeding. For more information see the MHRA's Drug Safety Update (April 2016) .
There is a catch-up programme for children, teenagers and young adults who have missed out on the MMR vaccine. Anyone of any age who is not sure whether they have had two doses of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines can ask their GP for the MMR vaccine.
Because of measles outbreaks in Europe and elsewhere, all travellers are advised to check that they are up to date with MMR vaccination before they travel. If you are travelling with a baby, the MMR vaccine can be given from six months of age before travelling to a country where measles is a risk or where an outbreak is taking place. See the Travel Health Pro website for more information.
Single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are not available in the UK through the NHS and are not recommended by the NHS (see the statement from Public Health England ). Single mumps and rubella vaccines are no longer manufactured anywhere in the world.
The MMR vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women as a matter of caution. However, there are no known risks associated with receiving the MMR vaccine during pregnancy or just before pregnancy. See this Public Health England statement for more information.
What protection does the vaccine give?
After two doses of MMR vaccine, about 99 of people out of 100 will be protected against measles, about 88 out of 100 will be protected against mumps, and almost everyone will be protected against rubella.
MMR vaccine safety
There are now a large number of studies that show no evidence at all of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In the short film below, experts say why they believe there is no link. See 'Is the vaccine safe?' towards the bottom of this page for a full list of studies.
How do we know that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism?