What is the MMR Vaccine? Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination

The MMR vaccine is a 3-in-1 combination vaccine offering protection against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). While only the measles vaccine is mandatory, many parents opt for the MMR vaccine for the added protection from mumps and rubella because both infections can cause serious complications. Unfortunately, the MMR vaccine has also received a lot of negative press because of supposed links to autism which is totally unfounded.

When should the MMR vaccine be administered?

In  infants, the MMR vaccine should be administered around 15 months of age. Prior to this the baby has inherited protection from the mother for the first 6 to 9 months of life. This does not mean that the child will not contract any of these infections, but it is less likely. Some parents allow their children to have the vaccine as early as 12 months while others wait till 18 months. A second booster vaccine will be administered at 5 years of age. Once again, it can be administered as early as 4 years or as late as 6 years.

For women who are planning to fall pregnant, you need to have a blood test to verify immunity against German measles (rubella). If you are not immune, you should take the MMR vaccine immediately. Remember that you should wait 4 to 6 weeks after taking the vaccine to fall pregnant. If you are already pregnant, do not take the vaccine. Speak to your doctor about other options should you contract German measles.

Why should the MMR vaccine be administered?

Only the measles vaccine is mandatory. Most government clinics will only administer the measles vaccine to children. However mumps and rubella (German measles) are also serious infections that can have a range of complications like encephalitis (brain inflammation). If you are deciding against vaccinating your child for mumps and rubella, consider these points :

  • A male child with mumps can develop a complication with the testes known as orchitis. This can lead to sterility – your son or male ward will no be able to have a child in the future.
  • A women who has never contracted German measles (rubella) in childhood and never had the vaccine runs the risk of giving birth to a baby with severe birth defects if she contracts rubella in the first 3 months of pregnancy. This can vary from mental and growth retardation, deafness, cataracts (eye), heart defects and defects or the other organs. These complications do not only occur in just some cases of pregnant women who contract German measles in the first trimester. It can arise in up to 85% of cases where pregnant women contracted rubella within the first 11 weeks of pregnancy.

What are the side effects and complications of having the MMR vaccine?

There has been a lot of hype around the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This was triggered by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who put forward a hypothesis on the link between the MMR vaccine, leaky gut and autism. This has never been proven. There is no link although autism is often detected at the age when the MMR vaccine is usually administered. Anxious parents and overzealous ‘natural healers’ often correlate the two incidents and propagate the myth about the MMR vaccine being linked to autism.

There is also no research to suggest that the MMR vaccine causes bowel disorders like leaky gut or increases the chances of childhood asthma. There is also no truth to the myth that the MMR vaccine contains preservatives which can be linked to mercury poisoning and brain damage. Always discuss your concerns with a doctor and do not rely on information from friends and relatives or irreputable websites, magazines or newspapers.

Some of the common side effects that may occur in a small percentage of children include :

  • Mild fever
  • Minor skin rash
  • Swelling of the glands around the neck and cheeks

These side effects will resolve spontaneously within a week or two.

There are more severe side effects which are rare but nevertheless, parents should be aware of it. These include a serious allergic reaction, seizures or ‘fits’, temporary joint pain and muscle aches as well as changes in the blood cells that may be linked to a bleeding disorder but this is only temporary.

It is important to note that the more serious side effects have only been very rarely reported and have not always been conclusively linked to the MMR vaccine. Other contributing factors may have also played a part in these side effects.

How much does the MMR vaccine cost?

The cost is about R150 or approximately US$20 (January 2010) if you have the vaccination through a private pediatrician but this could vary. Your doctor may also charge you a consultation fee in addition to the cost of the vaccine. If you are on medical aid, you should call the scheme and verify if they will pay for the MMR vaccine. This is not a mandatory vaccine so some medical aids may not pay for it.