MMR jab unlikely to harm young babies

Friday June 20 2014

A young couple's baby was given the MMR jab by mistake "potentially putting her life at risk", The Daily Telegraph website reports misleadingly.

Giving a baby the wrong vaccine is a serious mistake; fortunately, the error was quickly noticed and the baby appears not to have been seriously harmed.

Unfortunately, the Telegraph has taken a sensationalist approach by quoting the most extreme possible reaction – anaphylaxis – without stating that this is extremely rare and treatable.

The Telegraph's coverage says, “Newborns under six months must not be given the vaccine because they 'don't respond well' to it, according to NHS guidelines.”

The paper also goes on to say, “The NHS website does not specify what can happen to babies under six months if they are given the MMR vaccine.”

Unfortunately, the paper has taken words out of context, giving a misleading impression that there is some additional risk to young babies. There is no evidence of additional risk.

What will happen to the baby given the MMR vaccine by mistake?

It is unclear from the media coverage what has happened to the baby, although the Telegraph reports that she displayed side effects of sleepiness and appetite loss.

A statement from NHS London said: "We are investigating the concerns raised by this family about their child’s vaccination and are currently establishing the facts. Whilst it is not routine or advisable to vaccinate a child with MMR at two months of age, there is no clinical risk to the baby."

Is the MMR vaccine a risk for babies under 12 months of age?

No. Whilst giving the MMR vaccine at this age is not usually recommended, there is no evidence that doing so would place the baby’s life at risk.

It is also untrue that guidelines say that babies should never be given the vaccine. Earlier vaccination may be recommended if there is a measles outbreak in the local area.

What are the side effects of the MMR vaccine?

It's quite common for children to get a mild form of mumps or measles after the MMR vaccination, as well as some bruise-like spots. These can be worrying for parents, but will go away.

In around 1 in 1,000 cases, children may have seizures (fits) several days after vaccination. In extremely rare cases, a child can have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), but if the child is treated quickly, they can make a full recovery.

Call NHS 111 if you are worried that about your child's health.

Read more about how to report vaccine side effects.

Why should I have my child vaccinated?

The fact is vaccines save lives. In 1967 – the year before measles vaccination – there were more than 460,000 cases and 99 deaths. By 1997 – the year before the MMR health scare – there were fewer than 4,000 cases and just 3 deaths.

Complications of diseases such as measles include brain infections, loss of vision, liver infection and meningitis.

It has been shown that public scares about vaccination have reduced the uptake of vaccines. This in turn has led to outbreaks of diseases such as measles that we were beginning to think had been confined to the history books.

For this reason it is disappointing to see one family's shocking and unfortunate story, presented in this way.

What vaccinations should a two-month-old baby have?

By two months old, your baby will be due his or her first set of vaccinations. These are:

Read more information about the NHS vaccination schedule.

Edited by NHS Choices