The MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is recommended for all children as it is the safest, most effective way to protect children against three diseases that can have serious, even fatal, consequences.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection whose initial symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes. These are followed by tiny red spots that flare up all over the body, usually starting on the head and face, then spreading to the rest of the body. Measles can be serious for young children as it could lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain that can cause seizures and brain damage), and death. Measles is very infectious and if one person who has it coughs or sneezes, 90% of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected as it spreads through the air.
Mumps causes the swelling of glands below the ears and, before the vaccine, was the leading cause of meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and acquired deafness in the US. Mumps can also infect the testicles of males and cause infertility.
Rubella, also known as German measles, causes a mild rash on the face, and low-grade fever and the swelling of joints in some cases. Most children recover quickly from rubella, but the great danger of the disease arises when it infects a pregnant woman. When a woman is infected with rubella in the first trimester of her pregnancy, there is a 20% or higher risk of the baby having a serious birth defect. Birth defects resulting from rubella include heart defects, deafness, blindness, and mental retardation. A child with rubella poses a high risk of spreading the disease and therefore causing these terrible birth defects in unborn children.
Given the gravity of the potential consequences of these diseases, the MMR vaccine is strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as many other medical associations and advisory bodies. Also, most states in the US have MMR vaccination requirements for children entering public schools and, in many states, private schools and daycare centers as well. Nonetheless, most states provide for exemptions from vaccination on medical, religious, and philosophical grounds.
Yet, these legal requirements and exemptions fall short of making MMR vaccination completely mandatory, and the requirement of MMR vaccination for schools and daycare centers still currently faces opposition and is the subject of much public debate. While the debates rage on, and as parents whose children may be exempted from state requirements opt against MMR vaccination, the risk of these diseases and their complications, though mitigated, still exists.
Much of the opposition to MMR vaccination has been centered on its safety as well as freedom of choice. A study once linked the vaccine to autism, but the study has since been debunked. The concerns of parents often have to do with possible reactions their child might have to the vaccine. However, it has been shown through the years that the reactions are usually mild, and the risk of more serious reactions is low.
Concerns about the safety of the vaccine have also been raised. Some parents believe that the ingredients of the vaccine might be too much for their child's body to withstand. However, no scientific study has supported this. Moreover, the CDC and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) strictly and continuously monitor the safety of the vaccines being manufactured.
There, too, are parents who believe that natural immunity developed after having had a disease is more effective than the immunity offered by vaccines. However, while no vaccine is 100 percent effective, the idea of having a child develop immunity against a disease by first getting it exposes the child to the risk of complications, and exposes others to the risk of getting the disease from the child.
In sum, the risks posed by MMR vaccination have either been completely discredited or completely pale in comparison with the risks posed by refusing it.
What should I be aware of if I refuse to have my baby undergo MMR vaccination?
If you decide against MMR vaccination for your child, then you take all responsibility for your baby’s health and all possible complications if your child falls ill with measles, mumps, or rubella. Be aware, too, that if a woman in the early stages of her pregnancy catches rubella from your child, you will have to live with the thought that your decision has caused danger and harm to someone's life. Moreover, if your child is not vaccinated, he or she might not be accepted in daycare centers or schools. Last but not the least, you always can change your mind and resort to the vaccination to give your child sufficient protection from measles, mumps, and rubella.
When is the MMR vaccine contraindicated?
There do exist medical reasons running against MMR vaccination for your child. Should your child fall under any of the circumstances described below, you should discuss the matter with your pediatrician. Also, only a qualified pediatrician can determine the proper timing of the immunization, after having examined your child’s state of health.
There are particular cases when children cannot get shots under any circumstances:
- If your baby's immune system is compromised (e.g. HIV, AIDS)
- If you baby is undergoing treatment for cancer
- If your baby has an allergy to any of the components of the vaccine (neomycin, gelatin)
- If your baby is receiving long-term steroid therapy
- If your baby has recently had a blood transfusion (up to 3 months after the procedure)
- If your baby has had an organ transplant
- If your baby has a chronic disease (eczema, psoriasis, asthma, etc.)
- If your baby has a congenital heart defect or had such a condition before undergoing corrective surgery
- If your baby has just had the flu
- If you have just moved to a different climate zone (The change might be stressful for your baby; give your baby at least one month to adapt to the new living conditions.)
- If you have just stopped breastfeeding your baby or switched to new baby food (Wait a week or two to make sure he/she feels has adjusted to the new food.)
- If your baby was vaccinated for something else one month before your appointed date for MMR
- If your baby has already had rubella
- Your baby cannot be vaccinated at the onset of or during the course of rubella
- Additonally, pregnant women cannot be vaccinated
Is MMR safe for children?
Yes, MMR is safe for children if it is given in accordance with the established schedule of immunization and no contraindicated circumstances obtain. MMR has long been approved by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It is much safer to get a dose of MMR than undergo any of these illnesses and their complications. Any complications occurring after MMR immunization are handled individually by a special team of the doctors working for the federal program (The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program), so you will not be left on your own in case of any trouble.