Why does my child need the MMR vaccine to prevent measles?

Vaccines can save your child’s life, and the MMR vaccine protects against three viruses: measles, mumps and rubella (German measles).

Norton Children’s Medical Group

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Vaccines can save your child’s life by protecting against preventable diseases, including measles. The MMR vaccine protects against three viruses: measles, mumps and rubella (German measles).

Measles is a highly contagious disease that causes a rash and fever. It also can affect the lungs and a person’s breathing. Serious cases can lead to brain inflammation and death, underscoring the importance of this vaccine. Measles infection can suppress the immune system, making kids more susceptible to other infections.

“Two doses of the MMR vaccine, typically given when a child is 12 months and again when they are 4 to 5 years, are very effective in preventing measles,” said Matthew D. Kinney, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

In December 2022, a measles outbreak occurred in Ohio, infecting more than 80 children — none of whom were fully vaccinated. More than 30 kids required hospitalization.

“Ensuring your child is up to date with all recommended vaccines is a safe and effective way to help protect them, as well as their family and community, from several different diseases, including measles,” Dr. Kinney said.

When does my child need the MMR vaccine?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your child will get their first shot around their first birthday, between ages 12 and 15 months. They will be due for their second dose of the vaccine when they are 4 to 6 years old.

If you are traveling out of the country with your infant, and they are age 6 months to 11 months, they should receive one dose of the MMR vaccine prior to traveling.

What are the side effects of the MMR vaccine?

The measles vaccine is very safe and effective. Most children do not have any side effects from the vaccine. Studies show there is no link between autism and the MMR shot.

According to the CDC, side effects typically are mild and may include: soreness/redness at the injection site, fever, mild rash or stiff joints.

How does measles spread?

Measles is extremely contagious. According to the CDC, most everyone who is exposed to measles will get it if they are unvaccinated.

Measles is spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. Virus particles can remain in a room for two hours after an infected person leaves the area. A person with measles is contagious four days before the characteristic rash appears.

Measles is common in Europe, Asia and Africa, and it is often brought into the U.S. by unvaccinated travelers, leading to measles outbreaks.