Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
What is it for?
Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) are all infectious diseases caused by viruses. These diseases can cause serious complications — especially rubella infection in unborn children — and can sometimes be fatal. The MMR vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects you against all three of these diseases.
Thanks to population-wide vaccination with the MMR vaccine, measles, mumps, and rubella infections rarely occur in Australia. Even so, it’s still very important that children and young adults are immunised. This is because measles, mumps and rubella can only be wiped out if everyone is vaccinated (this is called ‘herd immunity’). Even if small numbers of children who are not vaccinated become infected, this can result in an epidemic of measles, mumps or rubella.
These diseases are still common in some developing countries. Adults and children travelling overseas should make sure that their MMR vaccinations are up to date. Nearly all cases of measles in Australia are caught overseas and ‘brought’ home.
Separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella are not available in Australia. So the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is given in a single injection with a second booster dose.
Measles is a very infectious disease. The measles virus is spread when saliva droplets containing the virus are breathed in by others. This can happen when someone with the infection sneezes or coughs.
You can catch measles if you are in the same room as someone with the infection, and for up to 2 hours after someone with measles has left the room (e.g. in a doctor’s waiting room or an Accident and Emergency department).
Complications of measles include ear and lung infections. One in every 1,000 children who gets measles will get encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Children with encephalitis are at risk of brain damage (1 in 4 children) and death (1 in 10 children).
Mumps is an infectious viral disease, that affects the salivary glands. The mumps virus is spread when saliva droplets containing the virus are breathed in by others. This can happen when someone with mumps sneezes or coughs. The mumps virus can also spread by direct contact with infected saliva.
Complications of mumps include:
- hearing loss due to nerve damage
- encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) (1 in 200 people)
- infections of the ovaries, pancreas, liver and heart
- serious infection of the testicles that can cause sterility in men (this is rare).
Rubella (German measles)
The Rubella (German measles) virus is spread when saliva droplets containing the virus are breathed in by others. This can happen when someone with the infection sneezes or coughs.
Complications of rubella infection include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and low levels of white cells and platelets in the blood, but these are rare.
The most important reason for vaccinating against rubella is to protect women and their unborn children from exposure to the disease. Women who become infected with rubella in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy are not only at risk of miscarriage, but are very likely to pass it on to their unborn baby causing a condition called congenital rubella syndrome. Congenital rubella syndrome can cause the baby to be born with one or more of the following defects:
- brain damage
- heart defects.
Who should be vaccinated?
New combined chickenpox and MMR vaccine (MMRV) from July 2013
From July 2013, a single combination vaccine that protects against the measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox (varicella) viruses (MMRV) can be given to children who are 18 months old who have been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine at 12 months. The vaccinations are free for all children in this age group as part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule.
The new MMRV combination vaccine will replace the separate chickenpox vaccine currently given to children who are 18 months old, and the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine currently given to 4 year olds. This will reduce the total number of injections given to children, and will provide a second dose of MMR at the earlier age of 18 months instead of 4 years. The MMRV vaccine is not recommended for people older than 14 years.
Note: from 1 July 2013 until 31 December 2015, the MMR vaccination will only be given to 4 year old children who have not had the MMRV combination vaccine at 18 months.
Find out more about the MMRV vaccine.
All adolescents and adults (including adults born during or after 1966) who have not been vaccinated against measles, mumps or rubella, or who have not received two doses of a measles-containing vaccine, should be vaccinated with the MMR vaccine.
The MMR vaccine is also recommended for:
- people who have not been immunised and who have been in contact with someone who has measles or rubella, to prevent them from getting these infections. The vaccination is most effective if you have it within 72 hours of being exposed to the person with measles.
- Healthcare workers and people who work with children, born in or after 1966 or who have not had the MMR vaccinations should be vaccinated to protect themselves from infection with measles, mumps or rubella, and to avoid transmitting rubella to pregnant women
- adults travelling overseas to make sure that their MMR vaccinations are up to date. Nearly all cases of measles in Australia are caught overseas and ‘brought’ home.
- people who grew up outside Australia and were not immunised.
The MMR vaccine is not given to people who have a weakened immune system (e.g. due to HIV infection, a medical condition, or taking medicines that suppress their immune system).
If you are unsure, check with your doctor about whether you should be vaccinated.
Adults who need to have the MMR vaccine can be vaccinated at their own cost.
Pregnant women and women of childbearing age
Women of child-bearing age, who have not had the MMR vaccine, should be vaccinated at least 28 days before they become pregnant, or immediately after they have given birth.
If you have just been vaccinated with MMR, you should avoid falling pregnant for 28 days after your vaccination.
The MMR vaccine is not given to women who are pregnant.
Pregnant women who think they have rubella, or think they have been exposed to rubella, should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the MMR vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, except the yellow fever vaccine.
Common side effects of the MMR vaccine (affecting 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:
- a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment
- fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) that lasts 2 to 3 days
- swollen glands
- faint red rash (which is not infectious)
- joint pain
- sore throat
- cold-like symptoms including a runny nose, cough and puffy eyes.
Most of the common symptoms usually appear from 1 to 3 weeks after injection, but usually don’t last more than a few days. Side effects are less common after the booster vaccination.
The MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Read our information on this discredited research.
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.18 Rubella. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-18
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.9 Measles. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-9
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.11 Mumps. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-11
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Immunise Australia Program. Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella (MMRV). www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-MMRV%20Vaccine