MMR vaccination is routinely given to children as part of the NHS childhood immunisation programme.
It can also be given on the NHS to older children and adults and babies over six months of age who need to be protected against measles, mumps and rubella, or in the event of a measles outbreak.
Which children should have the MMR vaccine?
The first dose of the MMR vaccine is offered to all babies between the ages of 12 and 13 months.
Children are given a second dose of MMR before they start school, usually between the ages of three and five, although the second dose can be given as quickly as three months after the first if there's an urgent need, such as in an outbreak.
The second dose of MMR boosts children's protection against measles, mumps and rubella. Up to 1 in 10 children are not fully immune after their first dose of MMR, but less than 1 in 100 children are still at risk after the second dose.
Which children should not have the MMR vaccine?
You should postpone your child's MMR jab if they're ill and have a fever (high temperature).
You may also want to postpone MMR vaccination if your child has had a bad reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine. It doesn't rule out having a further dose, but it's a good idea to speak to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor.
Your child should not have the MMR vaccination if they:
- are taking high-dose steroid tablets, or are taking lower doses either alongside other drugs or over a long time – if you're not sure, check with your GP
- have had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction (a severe allergic reaction) to a previous dose of the MMR vaccine or a component of it
- are being treated for cancer with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or have had these treatments within the last six months
- have had an organ transplant and are on immunosuppressant drugs (drugs that stop your immune system working properly)
- have had a bone marrow transplant and finished all immunosuppressive therapy within the last 12 months
- have a lowered immune system – if you're not sure, check with your GP
Catching up on the MMR vaccine
Adults and children who are not immune because they missed one or all MMR doses when they were younger can have the MMR vaccine on the NHS at any age. This may include:
- women preparing for pregnancy
- people exposed to measles during a measles outbreak
Teenagers and MMR
Teenagers attending for their 3-in-1 teenage booster are generally checked at the same time for MMR immunity.
If they are not immune because they missed MMR vaccination when they were younger, they can be given two doses of MMR vaccine on the NHS to protect them.
It's especially important for teenagers leaving home for college to be up-to-date with the MMR vaccine as they are at higher risk of mumps.
Find out why it's important for teenagers to be protected against mumps.
Adults and MMR
Adults who missed out on the MMR vaccination as a baby and are therefore not immune can have the MMR vaccine on the NHS. It's given to adults as two doses, with the second dose given at least a month after the first.
Some adults may not have received full protection because of changes in the MMR vaccine. Anyone born between 1980 and 1990 may not have received a mumps vaccine, and anyone born between 1970 and 1979 may have only had a measles vaccine. If you fall into one of these groups, ask your GP for the MMR vaccination.
Travellers and MMR
Anyone who is travelling to an area known to have had outbreaks of measles, mumps or rubella should receive the MMR vaccine before they travel.
Learn more about travel vaccinations.
Pregnancy and the MMR vaccine
If you're considering becoming pregnant, ask your GP to check whether you are fully immune to rubella – rubella in pregancy can cause serious problems in the developing baby.
Your GP can check your immunity with a simple blood test. If you have low or uncertain immunity against rubella, you will be offered MMR vaccination. Rubella vaccination is only available on the NHS as part of the combined MMR vaccine.
You'll be advised to try to avoid becoming pregnant for one month after having the MMR vaccination.
If you weren't checked before conceiving and your immunity is subsequently found to be low through routine antenatal blood tests, you will be offered an MMR vaccination to protect you against rubella after the birth of your baby, usually at their six-week postnatal check.
MMR during measles outbreaks
In the event of a measles outbreak, the MMR vaccine can be given to protect people who have come into contact with the condition in the previous three days. This is because measles antibodies develop more quickly after vaccination than they do after a natural infection.
It isn't harmful to have an MMR vaccination if you are already immune. So, if there is any doubt about whether you have already been vaccinated, go ahead and ask your GP for "catch up" vaccination.
Now, read about how the MMR vaccination is given.
Which adults should not have the MMR vaccine?
Very few people are unable to have the MMR vaccine for medical reasons. However, as a general rule, you should not have the MMR vaccine if you:
- are pregnant – women should avoid becoming pregnant for one month after having the MMR vaccine
- have had an injection of immunoglobulin (antibodies to help fight infection) or another blood product in the previous three months
- have already had a severe allergic reaction to neomycin (an antibiotic) or gelatin (a substance used in foods such as jelly)
- have a weakened immune system
If you have previously had an allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine, you may not be able to have another dose. You can discuss with a specialist the risks of not having the full dose of MMR, versus the likelihood and potential severity of having another allergic reaction if you choose to have another dose.
Read about the side effects of the MMR vaccine.