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Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine

By William D. Surkis, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine;Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program, Jefferson Medical College;Lankenau Medical Center ; Jerome Santoro, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine;Chief, Department of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College;Lankenau Medical Center

The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a combination vaccine that helps protect against these three serious viral infections. The vaccine contains live but weakened measles, mumps, and rubella viruses. The combination vaccine is used because anyone who needs protection against one of these infections also needs protection against the other two. Separate vaccines are not available.

These infections can cause serious problems:

  • Measles causes a rash, fever, and cough. It affects mainly children and can be very serious. It can lead to brain damage, pneumonia, and sometimes death.

  • Mumps causes the salivary glands to swell and become painful. Mumps can affect the testes, brain, and pancreas, especially in adults. Mumps is more serious in adults.

  • Rubella (German measles) causes a runny nose, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash with a light reddening of the skin, especially the face. In adults, it may cause joint pain. If pregnant women get rubella, they may miscarry, the fetus may die, or the baby may have very severe birth defects.

The MMR vaccine and the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine are also available as a combined vaccine (MMRV vaccine).


The MMR vaccine is given as an injection under the skin. Two doses are given: at age 12 to 15 months and typically at age 4 to 6 years.

All adults who were born in or after 1957 and who have not received two doses of the vaccine should be given at least one more dose of the vaccine.

The MMR vaccine is also recommended for

  • Health care workers if laboratory tests do not detect evidence of immunity

  • Women who could become pregnant (because rubella can cause severe birth defects if the mother is infected during pregnancy)

Birth before 1957 is generally considered sufficient evidence of immunity to measles, mumps, and rubella, except for women who could become pregnant and health care workers.

Adults who are likely to be exposed to these diseases (such as those beginning college, working in schools or child care centers, or traveling internationally) should get a second dose of the vaccine.

Pregnant women and people who are have had serious allergic reactions to gelatin or to certain antibiotics (particularly neomycin) should not be given this vaccine.

Side Effects

Some people have mild side effects, such as a fever, a general feeling of illness (malaise), and a rash. Joints may become temporarily stiff and painful, usually in teenage girls and women.

Evidence indicates that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism (see MMR vaccine and autism).

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