The MMR vaccine — which stands for measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) — is an important vaccine that protects against three separate viruses with a single injection. It is a safe immunization that can help prevent the spread of infectious viruses that have the potential for serious complications.
Although the vaccine prevents against three different illnesses, the MMR vaccine is administered over the course of two doses. It’s advised for all children to get the immunization and in most states in the United States, presenting proof of the vaccination is required for children before entering school. The widespread use of the vaccines has dramatically reduced the number of outbreaks of these three illnesses in the U.S., especially among children.
Why is it so important to receive this immunization? Measles, mumps, and rubella are highly contagious viral infections which can have serious complications and cause lasting damage. Measles is a condition that begins with flulike symptoms and a rash but can develop into pneumonia or even encephalitis, dangerous swelling of the brain that can lead to seizures and brain damage. Mumps causes significant swelling in the salivary glands and in many cases goes no further than causing flulike symptoms, but it can also cause meningitis, permanent hearing loss, and sterility. Rubella, also called German measles, is another illness that is usually more uncomfortable than life-threatening (fever, swollen joints, rash), but which can have devastating effects when it occurs in pregnant women.
The vaccine is recommended for children and is usually given between 12 and 15 months old, with the second dose administered between 4 and 6 years. Adults who are unsure whether they received the vaccine, or if they received the two-dose version that began to be administered after 1971, can also safely receive the vaccine, and should do so. This is especially true if they work in medicine, are about to attend college, or are traveling internationally. Women who intend to get pregnant should also consult their doctor in advance.
There are some people who should not receive the vaccine: those whose immune system is compromised by conditions like AIDS, platelet disorders, cancer treatments, and certain medications like corticosteroids, as well as women who are already pregnant and people with an allergy to gelatin or neomycin. People who have recently had a blood transfusion or another vaccine are advised to wait before getting the MMR injection.
Discuss the benefits and risks of the vaccination with your doctor.