MMR vaccine: What you need to know

The MMR vaccine, introduced in the United States in 1971, helps prevent the measles, the mumps, and rubella (German measles). This vaccine was a huge development in the battle to prevent these dangerous diseases.

However, the MMR vaccine is no stranger to controversy. In 1998, a study published in The Lancet linked the vaccine to serious health risks in children, including autism and inflammatory bowel disease.

But in 2010, the journal retracted that study, citing unethical practices and incorrect information. Since then, many research studies have looked for a connection between the MMR vaccine and these conditions. No connection has been found.

Keep reading to learn more facts about the lifesaving MMR vaccine.

The MMR vaccine protects against three major diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). All three of these diseases can cause serious health complications. In rare cases, they can even lead to death.

Before the release of the vaccine, these diseases were very common in the United States.


Measles symptoms include:

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

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


Symptoms of mumps include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • swollen salivary glands
  • muscle pains
  • pain when 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
  • arthritis (most commonly in women)

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

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

Before traveling internationally, children between 6 and 11 months old should receive at least the first dose. These children should still get two doses after reaching 12 months of age. Children 12 months or older should receive both doses before such travel.

Anyone who is 12 months of age or older who has already received at least one dose of MMR but is considered to be at greater risk for getting mumps during an outbreak should receive one more mumps vaccine.

In all cases, the doses should be given at least 28 days apart.

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

  • have had a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction 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 that weaken the immune system
  • have HIV, AIDS, or another immune system disorder
  • are receiving any medications that affect the immune system, such as steroids
  • have tuberculosis

In addition, you may want to delay vaccination if you:

  • currently have a moderate-to-severe illness
  • are pregnant
  • have recently had a blood transfusion or have had a condition that makes you bleed or bruise easily
  • have received another vaccine in the last four weeks

If you have questions about whether you or your child should get the MMR vaccine, talk to your doctor.

Several studies have examined the MMR-autism link based on the increase of autism cases since 1979.

The Western Journal of Medicine reported in 2001 that the number of autism diagnoses has been rising since 1979. However, the study didn’t find an increase in autism cases after the introduction of the MMR vaccine. Instead, the researchers found that the growing number of autism cases was most likely due to changes in how doctors diagnose autism.

Since that article was published, multiple studies have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. These include studies published in the journals Vaccine and PLoS ONE.

In addition, 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.”

And a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that even among children who have siblings with autism, there was no increased risk of autism linked with the MMR vaccine.

Furthermore, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization both agree: there is no evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

Like many medical treatments, the MMR vaccine can cause side effects. However, according to the CDC, most people who have the vaccine experience no side effects at all. In addition, the CDC states that “getting [the] MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.”

Side effects from the MMR vaccine can range from minor to serious:

  • Minor: fever and mild rash
  • Moderate: pain and stiffness of the joints, seizure, and low platelet count
  • Serious: allergic reaction, which can cause hives, swelling, and trouble breathing (extremely rare)

If you or your child has side effects from the vaccine that concern you, tell your doctor.

According to the CDC, vaccines have reduced outbreaks of many dangerous and preventable infectious diseases. If you’re concerned about the safety of vaccinations, including the MMR vaccine, the best thing to do is to stay informed and always examine the risks and benefits of any medical procedure.

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