The Truth About the MMR Vaccine

The MMR vaccine has been no stranger to controversy over the past few decades.

MMR Vaccine: What You Need to Know

The MMR vaccine is no stranger to controversy. The vaccine, introduced in the United States in 1971, helps prevent the measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). It has been previously linked to serious health risks in children, including autism and inflammatory bowel disease. But research has shown that the MMR vaccine has no connection to these conditions.

In fact, the 1998 study published in The Lancet that fueled the concern about the connection between MMR and autism was retracted by the journal in 2010.

Keep reading to learn more about the MMR vaccine.

What the MMR Vaccine Does

The MMR protects against three major diseases:


Measles symptoms include:

  • rash
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • fever
  • white spots in the mouth (Koplik spots)

Measles can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, and ear infections.


Symptoms of mumps include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • swollen salivary glands
  • pain with chewing or swallowing

Deafness and meningitis are both possible complications of mumps.

Rubella (German Measles)

Symptoms of rubella include:

  • rash
  • mild to moderate fever
  • red and inflamed eyes
  • swollen lymph nodes at back of the neck

Rubella can cause serious complications for pregnant women, including miscarriage or birth defects.

Who Should Get the MMR Vaccine

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommended ages for getting the MMR vaccine are:

  • children 12 to 15 months old for first dose
  • children 4 to 6 years old for second dose
  • adults 18 years or older and born after 1956 should receive one dose, unless they can prove that they’ve already been vaccinated or had all three diseases

Children between 6 and 11 months should receive at least the first dose before traveling internationally. Children 12 months or older should receive both doses. The doses should be given at least 28 days apart.

Who Shouldn’t Get the MMR Vaccine

The CDC gives a list of those who shouldn’t get the MMR vaccine. It includes people who:

  • are allergic to neomycin or another component of the vaccine
  • have had a serious reaction to a past dose of MMR or MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella)
  • have cancer or are receiving cancer treatments
  • have HIV/AIDS or another immune system disorder
  • are receiving any medications that affect the immune system, such as steroids

You may want to delay vaccination if you:

  • currently have a moderate-to-severe illness
  • are pregnant
  • have recently had a blood transfusion
  • have received another vaccine in the last four weeks

The MMR Vaccine and Autism

According to the National Health Service, England saw a decline in MMR vaccination rates when the vaccine was first linked to autism. MMR vaccination in England reached a low point in 2003 to 2004, according to the report. At that time, only about 80 percent of children under the age of 2 had been vaccinated.

Several studies have examined the MMR-autism link based on the increase of autism cases since 1979. The Western Journal of Medicine reports that the number of autism diagnoses has been rising since 1979, but the study didn’t find an increase in autism cases after the introduction of MMR. The researchers found that the growing number of autism cases was most likely because of changes in how doctors diagnose autism.

Studies published in Vaccine and the Public Library of Science found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

A 2014 study published in Pediatrics reviewed over 67 studies on the safety of vaccines in the United States and concluded that the “strength of evidence is high that MMR vaccine is not associated with the onset of autism in children.”

Furthermore, the Institute of Medicine, Medical Research Council, and World Health Organization all agree: there isn’t much evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

MMR Vaccine Side Effects

While there are possible side effects to the vaccine, the CDC states “getting [the] MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.”

Side effects can vary:

  • minor: fever and mild rash
  • moderate: pain and stiffness of the joints, seizure, and low platelet count
  • serious: allergic reaction

Up to 1 in 6 children develop a fever following the MMR vaccine. Febrile seizures occur for every 1 in 3,000 doses given, according to the CDC. While parents fear for their child’s safety, doctors emphasize the benefits of immunization to fight possible outbreaks of measles and other diseases.

Learn More About MMR

According to the CDC, vaccines have reduced outbreaks of many preventable infectious diseases. People concerned about the safety of vaccinations should still stay informed and always examine the risks and benefits of any medical procedure. Keep reading to learn more:

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