It is natural to be concerned about whether immunization is safe for your child or not. However, doctors recommend getting children immunized because vaccines are thoroughly checked before they are licensed for use. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective way to protect your child from the three viral infections, all of which are serious and can be fatal.
In the U.S., the first dose of MMR vaccine is typically given to an infant between 12 and 15 months old. The second shot is usually given when a child is between 4 and 6 years of age, although it can be given earlier in certain cases (e.g. before traveling to another country), provided that at least 28 days have passed since the first shot.
Both doses are necessary to protect the child from the diseases for rest of his or her life. If only one shot is given, the child will not be completely immune to the viruses.
Why such early vaccination?
Vaccination is given at young age because babies are much more vulnerable to viral infections. Also, vaccination at an early age comes with fewer side effects.
Is it possible to get vaccinated against the individual viruses?
Not in the United States. Individual vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella used to be available, although health authorities (including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)) strongly recommended the combination vaccine over separate vaccines. In 2009, upon the input provided by the ACIP, scientific leaders, doctors' associations, and customers, the leading pharmaceutical company that was manufacturing the monovalent (single ingredient) vaccines decided to stop making them.
No country recommends the use of single vaccines over MMR to this day. In some European countries, separate vaccines are available but only for use in special circumstances. For example, the measles vaccine is used in France for children aged 9 to 12 months and who go to nursery school, although these children are usually given the MMR vaccine 6 months later.
The combination vaccine is more efficient and offers a better guarantee of protection, as it entails fewer shots and decreases the risk of delays in a child gaining protection against all three viruses. Having gaps in time between vaccinations means that during the time one waits for the succeeding vaccinations, the child is vulnerable to the viruses against which he or she has not received immunization. Also, more visits to the doctor means an increase in the the risk of appointments being missed or delayed for one reason or another.
Getting all three vaccines at a single time does not aggravate the expected side effects.
What are the contraindications for the MMR vaccine?
Unfortunately, there are some circumstances under which you cannot have your baby vaccinated or you might have to wait:
- If your baby has any kind of cancer
- If your baby is being treated for cancer
- If your baby is being treated with steroids or other treatments affecting the immune system
- If your baby is susceptible to allergic reactions
- If your baby has a chronic skin ailment (e.g. vasculatis or psoriasis)
- If your baby has recently had a viral infection and has not completely recovered
- If your baby has an allergy to neomycin any of the components of the vaccine
- If your baby had an allergic reaction to a previous MMR vaccine dose
- If your baby is infected with HIV, or has AIDS or has any disease affecting the immune system
- If your baby has a blood disorder or a low platelet count
- If your baby has recently received a blood transfusion or other blood products
- If your baby is sick at the time of the scheduled vaccination
- If your baby has had a vaccine within the past 4 weeks
Does the MMR vaccine have any adverse effects?
The MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps, or rubella, and serious adverse effects following MMR vaccine are rare.
The most common adverse effects reported following MMR vaccination are the following:
- Pain at the injection site
- A mild rash
- Short-term stiffness and joint pain in teens and young adults who have not been previously vaccinated
The less common-to-rare adverse events that could follow MMR vaccines are the following:
- An allergic reaction might take place in those children whose parents are unaware that their little ones have an allergy to some of the components of the MMR, namely, neomycin and gelatin
- There is a minor risk of febrile seizure in babies (4 out of 30,000 babies under the ages of 12 to 23 months) who were vaccinated later than they should have been; this is why it is very important to follow the vaccination schedule established by medical authorities
- Very rarely, a child's cheeks may swell
- Even more rarely, a low number of platelets in the blood count (Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)) may occur, leading to a mild bleeding disorder. This is not life-threatening, however, and disappears without medication
- Measles encephalitis is a very rare illness that could develop within a year. It is associated with weak initial immunity
What if I don't want to have my baby to have the MMR vaccine?
The overwhelming majority of modern parents have a positive attitude towards the vaccination after proven benefits; however, some moms and dads still hesitate or outright refuse to have their children immunized. These parents hold that natural immunity is much better than the injected (artificial) one or are fearful of supposed adverse effects like autism and Crohn's disease.
Public Health England (PHE) has investigated the purported links of MMR vaccine to autism and Crohn's disease and have been proved wrong. Refusing vaccination for your child exposes him or her, and other children, to the risk of disease. One should consider the well-being of other people.
The following are some points for consideration:
- To unborn babies, the rubella virus is a very dangerous condition associated with severe defects in intrauterine development. Immunized children do not pass on the rubella virus to pregnant women.
- Mumps complications in the form of orchitis and oophoritis may leave your offspring childless in the future.
- Encephalitis can follow mumps, rubella, and measles in immunity-suppressed children.
- Travel to countries where any of the three diseases is common or where there is an epidemic of this illness is highly risky unless your child has been fully immunized.
- In some countries, children who have not been vaccinated might not be allowed to attend day care or schools.
- In order to know more about MMR vaccination, you need to take your little one to the doctor. The experts can give you all the details pertaining to the vaccination and why it is important.