Measles, Mumps and Rubella (“MMR”) Vaccine

What is the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (“MMR”) Vaccine?

The Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) is a live attenuated vaccine formulated to prevent the spread of these viruses and the symptoms that result from infection.  To understand how the MMR vaccine works, it is important to first understand each of these viruses and their impact on human health.

Measles, mumps and rubella are three highly contagious viral infections.  All three are considered airborne – each is primarily spread from person to person by respiratory droplets that enter the air through sneezing and coughing.  Measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children worldwide.  However, the World Health Organization estimates a 75% decrease in deaths between 2000 and 2013.

Measles:  the most well-recognized symptom of measles is the spotty red-brown body rash.  However, measles typically begins with cold-like symptoms, such as fever, malaise, and achiness.  The rash usually starts behind the ears and spreads throughout the rest of the body over several days.  Complications such as diarrhea, otitis media, pneumonia, bronchitis, and febrile seizures are common.  It is estimated that 1 out of 5,000 people with measles will die as a result of serious complications.  Measles is extremely contagious, with close to 90 percent of unvaccinated people developing the disease after exposure to an infected party. However, most people infected with measles survive to develop a lifetime immunity from further infection.

Mumps:  is characterized by swollen salivary glands (the parotid glands located between the ear and jaw) which cause one or both cheeks to inflame and puff out.  Other symptoms include fever, headaches, sore throat, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite and pain from chewing and swallowing.  Mumps can also cause inflammation of other body parts such as the testicles, pancreas, ovaries, breasts, brain or spinal cord.  Like measles, prior to widespread vaccination, mumps was a common childhood illness.  It is spread through contact with infected droplets of mucus or saliva.  Once a person is infected with mumps and the disease runs its course, the person typically develops lifetime immunity.

Rubella:  is very similar to measles, but it is generally less severe and of shorter duration.  The symptoms of rubella include mild fevers, headaches, malaise, runny nose, red eyes, tender lymph nodes, and a pink rash that starts on the face, and spreads to the body and limbs.  Similar to measles and mumps, rubella infections typically result in lifetime immunity once the symptoms of the virus subside.

Who should receive the MMR vaccine?

As a standard childhood immunization, the CDC recommendation for the MMR vaccine is that it should be administered in two doses.  The first dose should be given when the child is between 12-15 months old.  The second dose should be administered between the child’s fourth and sixth birthday, although it can be given as soon as 28 days after the first dose.  Any adult born after 1956 who cannot prove they either received an MMR vaccine during childhood, or had any of the three viruses it covers, should be vaccinated.

There are specific recommendations about who should not receive the MMR vaccine.  Anyone who has ever had a severe allergy to any of the vaccine’s components should not receive the MMR vaccine.  Additionally, the CDC recommends that people who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of MMR, those who have a severe immunodeficiency, and pregnant women should not receive the MMR vaccine.  Additionally, anyone who has a moderate or severe febrile illness, a history of thrombocytopenia or thrombocytopenic purpura, or active untreated tuberculosis should speak with their provider prior to receiving an MMR vaccine.

How is the MMR vaccine administered?

CDC guidelines recommend that the MMR vaccine should be administered at a 45-degree angle subcutaneously into the fatty layer beneath the skin.  For infants younger than 12 months old, the shot should be injected into the thigh, while anyone over 12 months old should receive the vaccine in the upper arm.  MMR vaccines should not be injected directly into the upper deltoid muscle.

MMR Links:

Mayo Clinic Mumps Page
Mayo Clinic Rubella Page
CDC MMR Vaccine Information Statement