Overview

The MMR vaccine helps protect your baby against measles, mumps and rubella.

What are measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella are highly infectious diseases that can leave children suffering serious medical complications. However, the high uptake of the MMR vaccine in Scotland means there's been a big reduction in the number of people catching these diseases.

More about measles, mumps and rubella

Who's eligible for the vaccine?

Your child will have the MMR vaccine in 2 doses:

  • The first between 12 and 13 months
  • The second at 3 years 4 months of age

Although normally given at these times, if it's missed, it can be given at any age.

Young people who haven’t had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine as a child should get their free MMR vaccine. It protects against measles, mumps and rubella – all of which can be very serious diseases and are highly infectious. If you're unsure if you've had 2 doses of MMR call your GP practice to check and catch up if needed.

The vaccine

The MMR vaccine's made from weakened forms of the natural viruses. The viruses in the vaccine have been changed so in most cases they'll cause none or only very mild symptoms.

The vaccine makes your child’s immune system respond to and ‘remember’ the viruses. This means that if your child's infected with the real viruses their immune system will quickly recognise them and act to stop the infection.

Immunisation can also provide 'population protection'

Which vaccines are used?

The following vaccines are routinely used in Scotland:

What are the benefits of a combined vaccine?

The combined MMR vaccine means your child is protected from measles, mumps and rubella as quickly and safely as possible.

To immunise against each of the 3 diseases separately would mean 6 injections over a longer period of time. The result would be:

  • more risk of catching a disease
  • more risk of missing a dose completely
  • more risk of pain where the injections are given
  • more trauma for your child

MMR has been responsible for a huge reduction in measles, mumps and rubella in children since it was introduced in the UK in 1988. Single vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella aren't available in the UK immunisation programme.

What if my child has a medical condition or allergy?

There are some serious medical conditions that mean your child shouldn't have the MMR vaccine.

Your child shouldn't have MMR if they've had a severe reaction to MMR before, or have:

  • significant immunosupression
  • severe allergies to neomycin or kanamycin (types of antibiotic)

In some cases having the MMR vaccine should be put off until a later date. Your child should wait to have MMR if they've a very high fever, or had:

  • another live vaccine (including BCG) in the last 4 weeks
  • an injection of immunoglobulin (antibodies) in last 3 months

Your child should have MMR even if they have:

  • asthma, eczema, hay fever or ‘snuffles’
  • been given antibiotics, or use a cream or inhaler that contains steroids
  • minor infections without fever
  • an egg allergy

What's the second dose?

The second dose of the MMR vaccine gives the best level of protection to the most number of children.

After the first dose, between 5% and 10% of children aren't protected against each of the diseases because their immune system hasn't responded to the vaccine. After 2 doses of MMR, less than 1% of children are left unprotected against measles.

To give the public the best protection, at least 95% of the population needs to be immunised against the virus. Because of the children who don't respond to the first dose and those who don't attend for immunisation, this number can only be achieved with a second dose being given to every child.

Almost all children who didn't respond to the first dose will be protected against measles, mumps and rubella with a second dose.

Is there pork gelatine in the MMR vaccine?

Pork gelatine is an ingredient in one of the MMR vaccines currently used in Scotland.

Gelatine is an essential ingredient in many medicines, including some vaccines. If you've any concerns about this, please speak to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor before you attend your immunisation appointment as there are alternative MMR vaccines available which don't contain pork gelatine.

Many faith groups, including Muslim and Jewish communities, have approved the use of gelatine-containing vaccines. However, it's an individual choice whether or not to receive this vaccine and we recognise there'll be different views held within different communities.

How effective is the MMR vaccine?

The World Health Organization states that MMR is a highly effective vaccine with an outstanding safety record (WHO, 2001).

In 1988 (the year before the MMR vaccine was introduced), 86,000 children in the UK caught measles and 16 died. Since 1992, there have been 3 deaths in the UK from measles.

There's now no country in the world that offers single vaccines in preference to MMR.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

Over 500 million doses of MMR have been used in over 90 countries around the world since the early 1970s.

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

Where and when to get it

Your baby will get the MMR vaccination at your GP practice or health centre.

When's my baby going to be immunised?

The MMR vaccine is offered to a child at between 12 and 13 months of age after the immunity a baby gets from their mother fades. The vaccine is injected into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm.

A second dose is given at the same time as other routine childhood immunisations – when children are aged from 3 years 4 months old.

Although normally given at these times, if it's missed it can be given at any age.

What if I haven't had 2 doses as a child?

Young people who haven’t had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine as a child will be offered the MMR vaccine during their routine teenage immunisations at school.

Young people not in secondary school should contact their GP practice to book their free MMR immunisation appointment.

If you're unsure if you've had both doses of the MMR vaccine, contact your GP practice to check.

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

Side effects

Side effects of MMR may be:

  • a mild rash (this rash isn't infectious)
  • a fever that develops a week or 2 after the vaccine and lasts 1 to 3 days
  • swollen lymph glands that develop 2 to 3 weeks later
  • sore or stiff joints that can last from a couple of days to a few weeks

These side effects will pass in a short time.

MMR very rarely causes serious side effects, and the numbers are small compared to the side effects caused by the real diseases. For example, a child with measles has a one in a thousand chance of developing meningitis. In comparison, a child who has had the first dose of the MMR vaccine has less than one in a million chance of developing meningitis.

If you're worried about your child, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or phone the 111 service.

Phone your GP immediately if, at any time, your child has a temperature of 39°C or above, or has a fit. If your GP practice is closed, phone the 111 service.

Read more about the common side effects of immunisations that might occur in young people

Read more about the common side effects of immunisations that might occur in babies

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the MMR vaccine, phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland have produced a leaflet explaining routine childhood immunisations in Scotland including the MMR vaccine, why it's offered and when it's given.

This leaflet's also available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Simplified Chinese and Urdu.

A guide to childhood immunisations up to 5 years of age

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