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MMR vaccination: Your questions answered

Vaccination is the most important thing you can do as a parent to protect your child against ill health.

Since vaccinations were introduced in the UK, diseases like smallpox, polio and tetanus that used to kill or disable millions of people are now very rare or gone completely. Other diseases like measles and diphtheria have been reduced by up to 99.9% since their vaccines were introduced. If people stop being vaccinated against these diseases, they can spread again very quickly.

For example, cases of measles and mumps are being seen more commonly again now that fewer people are taking up the MMR vaccine, which is worrying because measles can kill.

What is the MMR?

MMR is a safe and effective combined vaccine that protects against three illnesses, measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) in a single injection. The full course of MMR vaccination requires two doses. The first at around one year of age and the second dose is given at around three years and four months of age, before your child starts school.

How does the MMR work?

The MMR vaccine contains weakened versions of live measles, mumps and rubella viruses. The vaccine triggers the body’s immune system to make antibodies that fight back against measles, mumps and rubella. If you or your child then comes into contact with one of the diseases in future, the 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 MMR vaccine to infect other people.

What does the MMR protect against?

The MMR protects against measlesmumps and rubella. They are highly infectious conditions that can have serious, life altering and potentially fatal complications, including meningitisswelling of the brain and hearing loss.

Does the MMR cause autism?

The 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield which claimed that there’s a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has affected the uptake of the vaccine. This study has been completely discredited and Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine in the UK.

There have been many studies since Wakefield’s work was discredited. They have all found no link between autism and MMR. A recent study that followed a large number of children has again found that there is no link between MMR and autism.

Can the MMR be given as three separate injections?

The MMR is given as a single injection protecting against measles mumps and rubella.  The NHS does not recommend single vaccines as there’s no evidence to say that they are safer than the MMR.

Also, having the vaccines separately could put your child at risk of catching one of the diseases in the time between doses of each separate vaccine.

Every independent expert group around the world, including the World Health Organization, supports the use of MMR, and none support the use of single vaccines.

Is it too late to have the MMR now my child is older?

If you or your child missed out on the MMR vaccination as a baby, this means you are not immune to the disease. However, you can have the MMR free of charge on the NHS at any time. If you are a new mum, it’s really important that you have had your MMR vaccine to protect your child up until they can have the vaccine at the age of one.

The MMR vaccine is given to adults as two doses, with the second dose given at least a month after the first.

Some adults may not have received full protection because of changes in the MMR vaccine. Anyone born between 1980 and 1990 may not have received a mumps vaccine, and anyone born between 1970 and 1979 may have only had a measles vaccine.

If you fall into one of these groups, ask your GP for the MMR vaccination.

Useful links

Page last reviewed: 22-10-2019

Next review due: 22-10-2022