The MMR vaccine is a safe and effective combined vaccine.
It protects against 3 serious illnesses:
These highly infectious conditions can easily spread between unvaccinated people.
Getting vaccinated is important, as these conditions can also lead to serious problems including meningitis, hearing loss and problems during pregnancy.
2 doses of the MMR vaccine provide the best protection against measles, mumps and rubella.
If you have any questions about vaccinations, you can:
- ask your GP surgery or other healthcare professionals for advice
- read more about why vaccination is safe and important
When children should have the MMR vaccine
The MMR vaccine is given to babies and young children as part of the NHS vaccination schedule.
MMR (1st dose)
3 years and 4 months
MMR (2nd dose)
Important: Missed vaccines
It's important to catch up on any missed vaccines.
You can still ask your GP surgery for the MMR vaccine if your child has missed either of these 2 doses.
Why are babies given the MMR vaccine at 1 year, plus 3 years and 4 months?
MMR at 1 year
Newborn babies have antibodies passed on from their mother at birth. This helps protect them for a short time against measles, mumps and rubella.
These antibodies make the MMR vaccine less effective if it's given to a newborn.
By the time a child is 1 year old, the antibodies are almost gone, and the MMR vaccine will be effective.
MMR at 3 years and 4 months
The 2nd dose is given at around 3 years and 4 months, before a child starts school.
Having both doses gives long-lasting protection against measles, mumps and rubella.
Is the MMR vaccine ever given to babies earlier?
Babies over 6 months old are sometimes given the MMR vaccine earlier than usual if:
- they may have been exposed to the measles virus
- there is an outbreak of measles
- they are travelling abroad to a country where measles is common
The 2 usual doses of MMR will still be needed when they're older to ensure full protection.
How will I know when my child is due for a vaccine?
You'll usually be contacted by your GP surgery when your child is due for a routine vaccination. This could be a letter, text, phone call or email.
You may also receive a letter from the Child Health Information Service to let you know your child is due for a vaccination.
If you know your child is due for a vaccination, it's best to speak to your GP surgery to book the appointment. You do not need to wait to hear from them.
Read more about booking your child's vaccination appointments.
Polio and MMR vaccinations in London
From May 2023, children aged 1 to 11 in London who are not up to date with their routine vaccinations are being offered polio and MMR vaccinations through GP surgeries, primary schools and community clinics.
When older children and adults should have the MMR vaccine
Anyone who has not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine should ask their GP surgery for a vaccination appointment.
It's important to check you've had both doses if you:
- are about to start college or university
- are going to travel abroad
- are planning a pregnancy
- are a frontline health or social care worker
- were born between 1970 and 1979, as you may have only been vaccinated against measles
- were born between 1980 and 1990, as you may not be protected against mumps
How do I check if I've had both doses of the MMR vaccine?
Your GP surgery should be able to check whether you've had both doses of the MMR vaccine.
You may also be able to access your vaccination record online through GP online services.
Read about how to access your health records.
If your vaccination records are not available, or do not exist, it will not harm you to have the MMR vaccine again.
Can I have the MMR vaccine if I'm pregnant?
As a precaution, the MMR vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women.
You should also avoid becoming pregnant for 1 month after having the MMR vaccine.
It's best to let your GP or midwife know if you had the MMR vaccine while you were pregnant.
Evidence suggests there will be no harm to your baby, but it's better to let them know.
Can I have the MMR vaccine if I have a weakened immune system?
The MMR vaccine is not recommended for people with a severely weakened immune system. For example, people receiving chemotherapy.
If you have a medical condition, or are taking medicine that may affect your immune system, check with your healthcare provider if it's safe for you to have the MMR vaccine.
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP surgery if:
- you think you or your child has missed any vaccinations
- you need to change a vaccination appointment
- at any age, you're not sure if you or your child has had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine
Your GP surgery can book or rearrange an appointment.
It's best to have vaccines on time, but you can still catch up on most vaccines if you miss them.
How the MMR vaccine is given
The MMR vaccine is given as 2 doses of a single injection into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm.
2 doses of the vaccine are needed to ensure full protection.
Can my child have single measles, mumps or rubella vaccines?
Single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella are not available on the NHS and are not recommended.
Combined vaccines like the MMR vaccine are safe and help to reduce the number of injections your child needs.
The benefits include:
- avoiding any delay between injections that could risk illness
- reducing discomfort for your child
- reducing the number of appointments needed
Some private clinics in the UK offer single vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella, but these vaccines are unlicensed. This means there are no checks on their safety and effectiveness. The NHS does not keep a list of private clinics.
Effectiveness of the MMR vaccine
The MMR vaccine is very effective.
After 2 doses:
- around 99% of people will be protected against measles and rubella
- around 88% of people will be protected against mumps
People who are vaccinated against mumps, but still catch it, are less likely to have serious complications or be admitted to hospital.
Protection against measles, mumps and rubella starts to develop around 2 weeks after having the MMR vaccine.
Side effects of the MMR vaccine
The MMR vaccine is very safe. Most side effects are mild and do not last long, such as:
- the area where the needle goes in looking red, swollen and feeling sore for 2 to 3 days
- around 7 to 11 days after the injection, babies or young children may feel a bit unwell or develop a high temperature for about 2 or 3 days
Some children might also cry and be upset immediately after the injection. This is normal and they should feel better after a cuddle.
It's important to remember that the possible complications of infectious conditions, such as measles, mumps and rubella, are much more serious.
Common side effects of the MMR vaccine
As there are 3 separate vaccines within a single injection, different side effects can happen at different times.
Measles vaccine side effects
Around 7 to 11 days after the injection, some children get a very mild form of measles. This includes:
- a rash
- a high temperature
- loss of appetite
- a general feeling of being unwell for about 2 or 3 days
These symptoms are not infectious, so your child will not pass anything on to non-vaccinated children.
Mumps vaccine side effects
Around 3 to 4 weeks after the injection, 1 in 50 children develop a mild form of mumps. This includes swollen glands in the cheeks, neck or under the jaw which can last for up to 2 days.
These symptoms are not infectious for other people.
Rubella vaccine side effects
Around 1 to 3 weeks after the injection, some adult women experience painful, stiff or swollen joints for up to 3 days.
Rare side effects of the MMR vaccine
Rarely, a child may get a small rash of bruise-like spots about 2 weeks after having the MMR vaccine.
This side effect is linked to the rubella vaccine and is known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP).
It's been estimated that ITP develops in 1 in every 24,000 doses of the MMR vaccine given. However, the risk of developing ITP from measles or rubella infection is far greater than from having the vaccine.
ITP usually gets better without treatment but, as with any rash, you should get advice from your GP as soon as possible.
There's a small chance of having a seizure (fit) 6 to 11 days after the MMR vaccine. This can be caused by having a high temperature in response to the measles vaccine virus.
It may sound alarming but having a seizure after the MMR vaccine is rare. They happen in about 1 in every 1,000 doses given.
In fact, MMR-related seizures are less frequent than seizures that happen as a direct result of a measles infection.
Allergic reactions to the MMR vaccine
It's rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine. If this does happen, it’s usually within minutes.
The person who vaccinates you or your child will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately. With fast treatment, you or your child will make a good recovery.
Gelatine and neomycin allergies
Let your doctor or nurse know if you or your child has had severe allergic reactions to:
- an antibiotic called neomycin
The MMR vaccine is safe for children and adults with a severe egg allergy.
This is because the MMR vaccine is grown on chick cells, not the egg white or yolk.
For more advice about what to expect after vaccinations and how to treat common side effects, read vaccination tips for parents.
The MMR vaccine is not linked to autism
There's no evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. There are many studies that have investigated this.
MMR vaccine ingredients
There are 2 different brands of MMR vaccine available in the UK. These are called Priorix and MMRVaxPro.
The main ingredient of the MMR vaccine is a small amount of weakened measles, mumps and rubella viruses.
The MMR vaccine does not contain mercury (thiomersal).
MMRVaxPro contains porcine gelatine to ensure the vaccine remains safe and effective during storage.
You can find a full list of ingredients in these patient information leaflets:
Read more about why vaccinations are safe and important, including how they work and what they contain.
Page last reviewed: 8 April 2020
Next review due: 1 September 2023