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Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine

By William D. Surkis, MD; Jerome Santoro, MD

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The measles-mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine contains live-attenuated measles and mumps viruses, prepared in chicken embryo cell cultures. It also contains live-attenuated rubella virus, prepared in human diploid lung fibroblasts.

MMR vaccine and varicella vaccine are available as a combined vaccine (MMRV vaccine).


The MMR vaccine is a routine childhood vaccination (see Table: Recommended Immunization Schedule for Ages 0–6 yr).

All adults who were born in 1957 or later should be given 1 dose of the vaccine unless they have one of the following:

  • Documentation of vaccination with one or more doses of MMR

  • Laboratory evidence that indicates immunity to the 3 diseases

  • A contraindication to the vaccine

Documented diagnosis of disease by a physician is not considered acceptable evidence of immunity for measles, mumps, or rubella.

A 2nd dose of MMR vaccine is recommended for adults who are likely to be exposed:

  • Students in colleges or other post–high school educational institutions

  • Health care workers

  • International travelers

Because rubella during pregnancy can have dire consequences for the fetus (eg, miscarriage, multiple birth defects), all women of childbearing age, regardless of birth year, should be screened for rubella immunity. If there is no evidence of immunity, women who are not pregnant should be vaccinated. Pregnant women who do not have evidence of immunity should be vaccinated when pregnancy is completed and before they are discharged from the health care facility.

People who were vaccinated with inactivated (killed) measles vaccine or measles vaccine of unknown type during 1963 to1967 should be revaccinated with 2 doses of MMR vaccine.

People who were vaccinated before 1979 with killed mumps vaccine or mumps vaccine of unknown type and who are at high risk of mumps exposure should be offered revaccination with 2 doses of MMR vaccine.

Contraindications and Precautions

Contraindications include

  • A severe allergic reaction (eg, anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or to a vaccine component, including neomycin

  • Known severe primary or acquired immunodeficiency (eg, due to leukemia, lymphomas, solid tumors, tumors that affect bone marrow or the lymphatic system, AIDS, severe HIV infection, treatment with chemotherapy, or long-term use of immunosuppressants)

  • Pregnancy (vaccination is postponed until pregnancy is completed)

HIV infection is a contraindication only if immunocompromise is severe (CDC immunologic category 3 with CD4 < 15%—see Immunologic Categories for Children 13 Yr With HIV Infection Based on Age-Specific CD4+ T-Cell Counts and Percentages of Total Lymphocyte Counts); if immunocompromise is not severe, risks of wild measles outweigh risk of acquiring measles from the live vaccine.

Women who have been vaccinated should avoid becoming pregnant for ≥ 28 days afterward. The vaccine virus may be capable of infecting a fetus during early pregnancy. The vaccine does not cause congenital rubella syndrome, but risk of fetal damage is estimated at ≤ 3%.

Precautions include

  • Moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever (vaccination is postponed until illness resolves)

  • Recent (within 11 mo) treatment with blood products that contain antibody (specific interval depends on the product)

  • History of thrombocytopenia or thrombocytopenic purpura

If a person is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, MMR and possibly MMRV vaccine may temporarily suppress the response to tuberculin testing. Thus, if needed, this test can be done before or at the same time as vaccination. If people have already been vaccinated, testing should be postponed for 4 to 6 wk after vaccination.

Dose and Administration

Dose is 0.5 mL, given sc. The MMR vaccine is routinely given to children in 2 doses: one at age 12 to 15 mo and one at age 4 to 6 yr.

Adverse Effects

The vaccine causes a mild or inapparent, noncommunicable infection. Symptoms include fever > 38° C, sometimes followed by a rash. CNS reactions are very rare; the vaccine does not cause autism (see Anti-Vaccination Movement : MMR vaccine and autism and see Overview of Immunization : Vaccine Safety).

Occasionally, the rubella component causes painful joint swelling in adults, usually in women.

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