Healthy living

Measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine

  • The MMR vaccine offers protection against 3 diseases – measles, mumps and rubella in a single combined injection.
  • Measles is common outside Australia, and cases have increased in WA recently.
  • Adults born in or after 1966 can receive up to 2 free doses of MMR vaccine.
  • Travellers are especially recommended to get the MMR vaccine.
  • Children receive the MMR vaccine at 12 and 18 months through the National Immunisation Program.

The MMR vaccine offers 99 per cent protection against measles, mumps and rubella. This combination vaccine ensures you are fully protected and helps reduce the spread of these diseases. MMR is the only vaccination available in Australia for measles – you cannot get a vaccine for measles only.

Measles is the most infectious of all vaccine-preventable diseases and can have serious complications.

Who should have the MMR vaccine?

Children

Children are offered the MMR vaccine at 12 and 18 months of age through the National Immunisation Program. The second dose at 18 months also includes the varicella vaccine to protect against chickenpox and so it is known as the MMRV vaccine. According to the Australian Immunisation Handbook, 2 doses of the MMR vaccine are recommended for everyone who does not have immunity against measles, mumps or rubella.

It is important that your child receives 2 doses of the MMR vaccine to be protected. It's never too late; older children are still eligible for the free vaccine if they haven't received it yet. See your GP or immunisation provider if your child hasn't received their 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. You can check your family’s immunisation records at the Australian Immunisation Register.

Adults

If you've never had the MMR vaccine, it's not too late. The MMR vaccine is free for everyone born during or after 1966. Two doses are required, at least 1 month apart.

If you're not sure whether you are fully vaccinated, have the vaccine. An extra dose of MMR vaccine will not hurt you, and will make sure you are fully protected.

The exception to this is pregnant women and women who are thinking of becoming pregnant who are not recommended to get this vaccine. See 'Who should not have the vaccine' below for more information.

It is especially important to make sure you are fully vaccinated against these infections before travelling overseas because these and many other diseases are still common outside Australia.

Most people born before 1966 are immune to the disease, especially measles and mumps, because they probably had the disease in childhood.

Who should not have the vaccine?

Before being vaccinated, you must say if you:

  • aren't feeling well (for example you have a fever)
  • have any severe allergies (such as antibiotics, latex, gelatine)
  • are pregnant or plan to be pregnant in the next 2 months
  • have received another live vaccination in the last month
  • have received blood, blood products or immunoglobulin in the last 3 months
  • have a disease (for example HIV/AIDS or cancer) or having treatment that lowers immunity.

Pregnant women and the MMR vaccine

To prevent any possible harm to your baby, you shouldn't have an MMR vaccine if you are thinking of becoming pregnant. You should also wait 2 months after having a MMR vaccine before becoming pregnant. If you discover you are pregnant after having a MMR vaccine, discuss with your doctor. There a no known cases of the vaccine harming the developing baby, but doctors generally try not to give any live vaccines or medications during pregnancy. Having a MMR vaccine in early pregnancy is not a reason to terminate a pregnancy (have an abortion).

What are the benefits?

The MMR vaccine is safe, effective and has few side effects. Before vaccination, about 100 Australian children died each year from measles. Today, deaths from measles are rare.

Similarly, there are very few cases of birth defects from rubella in Australia today. Measles and rubella cases are now more common in young adults, the group least likely to have been vaccinated or to have had the diseases.

What are the risks?

With MMR vaccination, some people get a few, temporary side effects such as fever with mild malaise and rash. These side effects are non-infectious and could last between 7 to 10 days.

There is also an increased risk for febrile seizures, mainly in children under 3. These are likely to occur 7 to 10 days after vaccination.

Few people are affected by the second dose.

Common side effects

  • low-grade fever
  • muscle aches
  • soreness, swelling and redness and a small lump appearing at the injection site.

These symptoms normally occur soon after you received the vaccine, last 1 to 2 days, and resolve without requiring special treatment.

The following reactions may occur 5 to 12 days after the vaccination:

  • high fever over 39 °C lasting 2 to 3 days
  • faint red rash (not infectious)
  • runny nose, cough and/or puffy eyes
  • swelling of salivary glands
  • drowsiness or tiredness.

Severe side effects

A severe reaction following the administration of MMR vaccine is very rare (less than 1 in 1 million doses administered).

How is the vaccine given?

One dose of the MMR vaccine given when a child is 1.

This is followed up by an MMRV vaccination when the child is 18 months old.

If a child is older than 18 months and never received the vaccine, it is recommended that they receive 2 MMR vaccines, with a minimum of 4 weeks apart.

How do I report an adverse event?

The Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) system (external site) is the central reporting service in WA for any significant adverse events following immunisation.

If you have experienced an adverse reaction to a vaccine:

Where can I get the vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is available in metropolitan and country WA from immunisation providers including GPs, immunisation providers, travel clinics and Aboriginal Medical Services.

For further information, contact your GP or immunisation provider.

Where to get help

Remember

  • The MMR vaccine offers 99 per cent protection against 3 diseases – measles, mumps and rubella.
  • It is safe, effective and has few side effects.

Last reviewed: 21-03-2019
Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Photo of a women in her 30s/40s with a serious expression. Text: Have you been fully vaccinated against measles?