All about the MMR vaccine

Clear guide to safety around MMR, what exactly it is and if single vaccines are as good

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With all the hype and confusion surrounding MMR and MMR immunisation, it can be hard to know what it’s all about, and what the risks really are. We take a look at what MMR is, what risks are involved with the MMR vaccine, and common questions raised by parents about MMR jabs.

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What is MMR?

MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella (or German measles) – three illnesses caused by three different viruses for which there are three different vaccines. These have been combined into one injection of a weakened form of the viruses, to stimulate the body into developing immunity to them. It’s given in two doses, the first at 12-15 months old and the second at four or five years.

What if my child does get measles, mumps or rubella?These are usually unproblematic illnesses in children but they can also have serious consequences:
*Measles can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis, convulsions and chest or ear infections. One in 5,000 children will die from these complications.
*Mumps can cause encephalitis and meningitis and, if you get it while pregnant, can lead to miscarriage.
*Rubella is usually mild but, if passed on to a pregnant woman, can cause severe foetal damage or miscarriage.
The MMR jab has significantly reduced the incidence of these diseases in the UK. However, they could become prevalent again if parents don’t immunise.

What are the risks?

Most children are fine after an MMR jab, and any side effects are mild. The more serious and much rarer side effects arise far more often in children infected with the illnesses naturally (see list of complications at the end). To help avoid such risks, be sure to mention any allergies before the jab is given.

Does the MMR jab cause autism?

No. The UK’s Medical Research Council has found no link and the World Health Organisation says the MMR has an outstanding safety record.

Health professionals are concerned that the fear of the link between MMR and autism has resulted in a drop in the number of babies being vaccinated – which in turn means that measles and mumps are on the increase. In 2006, the UK saw its first death from measles in over 14 years. In order for a vaccination such as MMR to be effective, 95% of the population needs to be immunized. Currently, take-up rates are as low as 82%.

Would separate vaccines be safer?

No country in the world recommends this option. Giving vaccines separately would require six injections over a longer time, increasing a child’s risk of catching the illnesses and tripling stressful injections for the child.

If you’re concerned about the MMR vaccine, talk to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor

Complications

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The complications, or side effects, associated with the MMR jab, as compared to these risks in those affected by the diseases naturally are:
*Fits (convulsions): The risk after natural disease is 1 in 200. The risk after first dose of MMR is 1 in 1,000.
*Meningitis/encephalitis: The risk after natural disease is 1 in 200 to 1 in 5,000. The risk after first dose of MMR is 1 in 1,000,000.
*Conditions affecting the clotting of the blood: The risk after natural disease is 1 in 3,000. The risk after first dose of MMR is 1 in 24,000.
*Severe allergic response (anaphylaxis): The risk after natural disease is none. The risk after first dose of MMR is 1 in 100,000.
*Death: The risk after natural disease is 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 5,000 (this depends on age). The risk after first dose of MMR is none.

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