MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella): This vaccine is intended to prevent measles, mumps and rubella. These are different viral infections which cause fever, rashes and infections of different organs of the body. Their exact manifestations can be looked up on-line. We won’t describe them here. The MMR vaccine is given at 1 year and 4 years of age. Although in the past these three diseases have been virtually eradicated in the US, in recent years, mainly due to children not getting their needed vaccinations, there has been a resurgence of measles and mumps in our country. Measles is typically brought into our country by foreign travelers and then they spread it to unvaccinated people. Since children do not get their MMR until their first birthday, virtually all babies are susceptible to measles, mumps and rubella. Recent outbreaks have included the California Disneyland measles outbreak in 2015 and here in Arkansas, a mumps outbreak in 2016 -2017. Thus, there is still an important need for MMR vaccination.
Side effects of MMR are generally minor. Usually, there is no reaction for the first day or two. However, within a week or two, a few children will develop a low-grade fever, runny nose and rash. This can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol -see Dosage Guide). These symptoms will resolve spontaneously. Rarely, children who receive the MMR may develop joint swelling and or redness. Very rarely, this pain and stiffness of the joints can last for months.
More serious side effects to the MMR do occur. They are all rare events. Convulsions (fits, seizures, spasms, twitching, jerking or staring spells) occur in very rare cases. Hearing loss has been reported as has inflammation of the brain after receiving a dose of MMR. Again these reactions are quite rare. The chances of brain inflammation after MMR is approximately one in 1,000,000 people receiving the vaccine.
Your child should not receive the MMR vaccine if your child:
- has had an allergy problem to an antibiotic called neomycin so serious that it required treatment by a doctor.
- had a previous allergic reaction to MMR.
- is taking cancer treatments or is taking other drugs, such as prednisone or steroids, that make it hard for the body to fight infection. MMR is a live virus vaccine. People whose immune systems are compromised can catch a form of measles from the vaccine.
- is born with or develops any disease that makes it hard for the body to fight infection, such as cancer, leukemia, or lymphoma (cancer of the lymph glands).
- has received gamma globulin during the past 11 months.
- is pregnant or thinks she is pregnant. It is safe to give the MMR to a child whose mother is pregnant.
- has a family member who is on chemotherapy or some other treatment that reduces the effectiveness of the immune system who lives in the same household.
- currently has a moderate or severe acute illness.
- has thrombocytopenia (low platelets) or thrombocytopenic purpura (bruising caused by low platelets).
The MMR-Autism myth: The MMR vaccine has acquired an unfounded reputation of causing autism when given to young children. This reputation was the result of one paper that was written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and published in a British Medical Journal called the Lancet in 1998. The message of this article was subsequently taken up in the US pop culture, even being espoused by certain US politicians. Unfortunately, the research and resulting paper that reported the MMR-autism association was severely flawed. This finding resulted in the retraction of its publication by The Lancet. Thus, no medical study now in print currently links the administration of the MMR vaccine or any other vaccine for that matter with the development of autism. In fact, there are many studies that have been done which prove that MMR actually does not cause autism. Despite this information, the unfounded association persists in our country.
The Center for Disease Control makes this statement regarding MMR and autism. “Current scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, or any combination of vaccines, causes the development of autism, including regressive forms of autism. The question about a possible link between MMR vaccine and autism has been extensively reviewed by independent groups of experts in the U.S. including the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. These reviews have concluded that the available evidence does not support a causal link between MMR vaccine and autism.” Bottom line: vaccines don’t cause autism. In particular, MMR does not cause autism.
At All For Kids, we literally spend hours each week explaining the MMR-autism myth to our parents, when we could be talking about real issues that could improve a child’s health. Instead, we are left trying to break down this myth that was born in US pop culture, not in the medical, scientific community. Please know that the issue has been medically settled. No MMR-autism association exists. Withholding needed immunizations from your child, for the reason of the fear of autism due to vaccinations is unwise, because no association actually exists. To withhold vaccinations of children constitutes a form of medical neglect. Children can actually catch the diseases we immunize against and be damaged by those diseases if those children remain unimmunized. Sadly, that phenomenon is actually happening now in Arkansas, and even in our own practice. Parents don’t know who to believe.
As we have discussed this vaccine issue with thousands of parents, we have come to realize that the real issue at hand in this discussion is one of credibility. Who will you as a parent believe regarding the safety of vaccines: scientific studies, your pediatrician, pop culture icons, other parents who don’t immunize their own children, non-medically trained reporters? Our message is clear, vaccines are safe and effective. They prevent death, disease and disability for your child. You should get your child’s immunizations, including the MMR and get them on time. Vaccine administration is the most fundamental, basic aspect of the practice of pediatrics. Your child’s life may well depend on your decision. Delaying vaccinations is unwise, because the diseases we are preventing are more likely to kill or severely injure a young baby.
A good resource for understanding the MMR-autism myth is the vaccine education center at CHOP.EDU. They also have written a great app for iphone and android about vaccines called: vaccines on the go. This is accurate vaccine information provided by Paul Offit MD, the chief infectious disease officer at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
View the CDC vaccine sheet here: vis-mmr.pdf