MMR Vaccine (Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine)

Expand All

The MMR vaccine gives protection against three serious diseases: measlesmumps, and rubella.

According to the World Health Organization in 2021 an estimated 128,000 people died globally from measles – mostly children under the age of five years. As well as death, measles can also cause serious complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis - inflammation of the brain.

In the UK, as in Europe, cases of measles have been rising recently. Between October 2023 and January 2024 there were 216 confirmed and a further 103 probable cases of measles in just one area of the UK, the West Midlands.   

And between 1 January 2023 and 30 June 2023, there were 128 cases of measles, compared with 54 cases in the whole of 2022. Some 66 per cent of these were in London, although cases have been seen in all regions. The rise is mainly down to a fall in the number of children being vaccinated. 

Mumps can also lead to serious complications, such as meningitis and encephalitis. Rubella can be very dangerous for pregnant women, causing miscarriage or serious abnormalities in the unborn baby.

Children get two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose is given at 12-13 months in the UK schedule. A booster dose is given at 3 years and 4 months at the same time as the preschool booster.

The vaccine works very well. Two doses are 96% effective against measles, around 86% effective against mumps, and 89% effective against rubella.

Before the introduction of vaccines, all three diseases were extremely common; most people had them at some point, usually as children. Although many people survived without long-term effects, others were left with serious disabilities and some children died.

There is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Despite widespread misinformation, multiple studies have shown that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and previous studies that did report a link have been discredited. See 'more information about the vaccine' below. 



The aim of the MMR programme is to provide two doses of MMR vaccine at appropriate intervals for all eligible individuals.

Children should receive their first dose between 12 and 13 months of age, with a second dose given at 3 years and 4 months of age.

If the first dose is given before 12 months of age, either because of travel to a high-risk country or because of a local outbreak, then this dose should be ignored, and two further doses given at the recommended times. This is because the protection from the vaccine given before the recommended time may be lower than if it was given at the recommended time.

The MMR vaccine can be given after six months of age and should be offered to partially or unvaccinated individuals when the opportunity arises, for example, before starting university.

If you were born or lived outside of the UK at a young age, you may need 2 doses of MMR. Different countries offer different vaccines and not all use the combined MMR vaccine.

It is also important for healthcare workers to ensure they have full protection to ensure they do not spread disease to vulnerable people. It is also essential for individuals who travel to high-risk countries to ensure they are fully protected.

The vaccine should not be given to:

  • those who are immunosuppressed
  • those who have had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of a measles, mumps, or rubella-containing vaccine
  • those who have had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to neomycin or gelatine
  • pregnant people, as a precaution. 


All vaccines go through rigorous testing and regulatory processes that can take up to 15 years to ensure they are safe and effective. Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, but not everyone gets them.

There are two vaccines licensed in the UK that protect against MMR. These are Priorix and M-M-RVaxPRO.

Side effects for Priorix include;

Very common, may occur in more than 1 in 10 doses:

  • redness at the injection site
  • fever of 38°C or higher.

Common, may occur in up to 1 in 10 doses:

  • pain and swelling at the injection site
  • fever higher than 39.5°C
  • rash
  • upper respiratory tract infection.

Uncommon, may occur with up to 1 in 100 doses:

  • infection of the middle ear
  • swollen lymph glands (glands in the neck, armpit or groin)
  • loss of appetite
  • nervousness
  • abnormal crying
  • inability to sleep 
  • redness, irritation and watering of the eyes
  • bronchitis
  • cough
  • swollen glands in the cheek
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting.

Side effects for M-M-RVaxPRO include:

Very common, may occur with more than 1 in 10 doses:

  • fever (38.5 °c or higher)
  • injection site redness; injection site pain; injection site swelling.

Common, may occur with up to 1 in 10 doses:

  • rash (including measles-like rash
  • injection site bruising.

Uncommon, may occur with up to 1 in 100 doses:

  • nasal congestion and sore throat; upper respiratory tract infection or viral infection; runny nose
  • crying
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • hives
  • injection site rash.

As with any vaccine, medicine or food, there is a very small chance of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Anaphylaxis is different from less severe allergic reactions because it causes life-threatening breathing and/or circulation problems. It is always extremely serious but can be treated with adrenaline. Healthcare workers who give vaccines know how to do this.

In the UK between 1997 and 2003 there were a total of 130 reports of anaphylaxis following ALL immunisations. Around 117 million doses of vaccines were given in the UK during this period. This means that the overall rate of anaphylaxis is around 1 in 900,000.

If you are concerned about any reactions that occur after vaccination, consult your doctor. In the UK you can report suspected vaccine side effects to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) through the Yellow Card Scheme.

You can also contact the MHRA to ask for data on Yellow Card reports for individual vaccines. See more information on the Yellow Card scheme and monitoring of vaccine safety.


Apart from the active ingredients (the antigens), both MMR vaccines may contain very small amounts of these ingredients:

M-M-RVaxPRO also contains:

The vaccine may also contain traces of these products used during the manufacturing process:

  • neomycin, an antibiotic used to stop bacteria from growing and contaminating the vaccine

Growing the active ingredients for the vaccine:

  • The rubella strain for both MMR vaccines is grown in the laboratory using a human cell line

The measles and mumps virus strains for both MMR vaccines are grown using a chick embryo cell (see more information about the use of animal cell lines to grow viruses for vaccines).

The viruses are not grown on eggs. This means that there is not enough egg protein in the MMR vaccine to cause allergic reactions, so children with severe egg allergies can safely receive the MMR.

Only the M-M-RVaxPRO vaccine contains gelatine. If you prefer to receive a vaccine not containing gelatine, then ask your GP for the Priorix vaccine instead


In the short film below, experts talk about measles and its complications, and the importance of the MMR vaccine.

Measles and the MMR vaccine

A life changed by measles: Sarah Clow's story

Sarah Clow fell seriously ill with measles when she was five and was left with lasting disabilities including deafness, partial sight and learning difficulties. Her mother Audrey talks about the impact this has had on Sarah and the whole family. Thanks to Rockhopper TV for the original footage.

Sarah was not vaccinated against measles as a child because she had had eczema. Advice on this has now changed; current advice is that children with eczema can safely receive the MMR vaccine and other vaccines.

A life changed by measles


SSPE - a serious complication of measles: Sarah Walton's story

Sarah Walton caught measles when she was 11 months old, and at the time recovered well. Twenty four years later, however, she fell ill and was diagnosed with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). SSPE is a persistent viral infection, a rare but devastating complication of measles which leads to a progressive destruction of the central nervous system. It causes dementia, loss of motor control, epilepsy and eventually death. In this video Sarah’s mother Jo talks about the impact that SSPE has had on Sarah and the people around her.

For more information about the egg allergy issues raised in the video, see the 'Ingredients' section above.

SSPE - a serious complication of measles


 In this short film, Ian Capon talks about his experience of CRS, and advises women planning a family to check their rubella immunisation status.

Congenital Rubella Syndrome - Ian's story


How well does the vaccine work?

A recent Cochrane review of 124 studies assessing vaccine effectiveness showed that two doses of MMR vaccine were 96% effective in preventing measles, and one dose was 95% effective in preventing measles.

Two doses of MMR vaccine are also around 86% effective against mumps, and 89% effective against rubella.

Public Health England estimates that around 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK since a measles vaccine was introduced in 1968.

In addition, they estimate that rubella vaccination has prevented around 1.4 million cases of rubella and 1,300 cases of birth defects and averted 25,000 terminations.

Myths about the MMR vaccine and autism

There is no evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Autism is a developmental disorder which is usually diagnosed in preschool children. The original research which suggested a link has now been discredited.

The National Autistic Society in the UK has issued a statement saying that ‘there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine’.

Below is a list of studies and their findings. Click on the links to view the abstracts (summaries) of the scientific papers:

Planned changes to the MMR schedule

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that the second dose of the MMR vaccine, usually given at 3 years 4 months, should be brought forward to 18 months of age.

The main purpose of bringing the second dose forward is to improve coverage of the second dose, and further reduce the likeliness of measles outbreaks.

In some areas of London, where the second dose of the MMR vaccine has previously been brought forward in response to local measles outbreaks, second dose coverage increased by an average of 3.3 percentage points.

This earlier visit would create a new immunisation visit, but the probable benefit of increasing coverage in MMR justifies the JCVI’s decision.  Furthermore, due to the recommended changes to the other vaccine schedules, an additional dose of Hib-containing multivalent vaccine (such as the DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB which is also given earlier in infancy) should also be given at 18 months.

These changes will occur once the current stock of Menitorix, the current Hib-containing vaccine, runs out.

Read more in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) statement on changes to the childhood immunisation schedule here.


Page last updated Friday, February 16, 2024