Measles, mumps and rubella

What are measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) are highly infectious diseases caused by viruses.

The rash usually appears on the head and neck first and spreads to the rest of the body.

Other symptoms include loss of appetite, tiredness and irritability. 

How do people get measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) are spread by close contact with an infected person. 

What are the symptoms of measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles causes fever, cough, red and painful eyes, and a rash.

Mumps causes swollen neck glands and a fever.

Rubella (German measles) causes a rash, fever and swollen glands. If a pregnant woman gets rubella in early pregnancy it may cause major birth defects in the baby.


If 1000 people get measles:

  • 1 or 2 will die
  • 50 will get an ear infection
  • 40 will get pneumonia or bronchitis
  • 5 will have convulsions (fits)
  • 160 will get diarrhoea
  • 1 will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) For every 10 children who develop encephalitis - 1 will die and - up to 4 will have brain damage.

1 in 8000 children under two years of age get SSPE (brain degeneration), which may be many years after measles and is always fatal.

1 in 6000 will get a blood clotting problem.


If 1000 people get mumps:

  • 50 will get viral meningitis
  • 1 will get encephalitis (brain inflammation)
  • 400 men who have mumps will get swollen testicles
  • 300 will get fever, a headache, and swollen salivary glands under the jaw, and

1 in 20,000 will become deaf.

Mumps can also rarely cause infertility in men.


Of the people who get rubella (German measles):

  • About 1 in 2 will get a rash and painful swollen glands; and more than half of women with rubella get painful joints.
  • 1 in 3000 get thrombocytopenia (bruising or bleeding of the skin);
  • 1 in 6000 get encephalitis (inflammation of the brain);
  • If a pregnant woman gets rubella in early pregnancy 9 in 10 babies will have a major birth defect, such as deafness, blindness, brain damage or heart defects.

Is there a vaccine?

Yes. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). It is a live vaccine which means it contains weakened forms of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. 

How many doses of MMR vaccine are needed in the routine vaccination schedule? 

Two doses of MMR vaccine, over the age of 12 months, are required to give the best protection.

When is the first dose of MMR vaccine routinely recommended?

The MMR vaccine is recommended to be given to babies at 12 months of age. It is available for free through your GP practice.  

My child has had one dose of MMR vaccine. When should they get the second dose?

Children should get the second dose of MMR vaccine when they are in junior infants in school. HSE school immunisation teams give the MMR vaccine to children in schools. You can find information here. If you live in Sligo, Leitrim or Donegal, the 2nd MMR vaccine dose is given to children when they are aged 4-5 years by the GP. 

Does my baby need an additional dose of MMR vaccine before travelling to another country?

Babies age6 to 11 monthscan get an MMR vaccine before travelling to another country. You can get the vaccine for free from your GP. Try to get the vaccine at least 2 weeks before you travel.

Babies under age 6 months cannot get the MMR vaccine. But they still have any protection that was passed on during pregnancy.

If your baby gets an MMR vaccine before age 12 months, this does not change the regular vaccination schedule. This means they still need to get the doses at age 12 months and 4 to 5 years (in junior infants).

Children who have had their MMR at 12 months of age but are not yet in junior infants do not need to get their second dose of MMR early if they are travelling.

Can older children and adults get MMR vaccine?

It is not too late to get the MMR vaccine, and it is recommended that older children and young adults who have not received two doses of MMR vaccine (or are not sure if they have) should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

The HSE is providing MMR Catch Up Vaccination Clinics across the country for eligible people or you can visit your GP to get vaccinated. 

Who should not get the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is safe for most people.

However, you or your child should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous MMR vaccine or any part of the vaccine (including gelatin – for the MMRVaxPro MMR vaccine only) or a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic called neomycin.

The MMR vaccine should not be given to anyone who is pregnant.

You should delay getting the vaccine if your child:

  • is ill with a fever
  • has had varicella  (Chickenpox) vaccine, within the previous four weeks.
  • is on high dose steroids or is having any treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • has any illness or disease that weakens  their immune system
  • has had recent blood transfusion or blood products

If your child is on any of the treatments listed above you should discuss vaccination with your child’s doctor.

If a person’s immune system is severely affected by illness or treatment, they will not be able to have the MMR vaccine.

If you have any concerns, talk to your family doctor or public health nurse. 

Should my child get MMR vaccine if they have an egg allergy?

Yes - MMR vaccine can be given to children with a severe egg allergy. A severe allergy to the MMR vaccine is extremely rare even in children with a serious egg allergy. It is not necessary to avoid the MMR vaccine if your child dislikes eggs or has diarrhoea or stomach pains after eating eggs and you do not need to take any special precautions. If you have any doubts, talk to the doctor or nurse giving the MMR vaccine. 

Is there a link between the MMR vaccine and autism?

No. We know that vaccines don’t cause autism. However, when things happen around the time vaccines are given we can think that there is a link between the two things. For example, the signs of autism usually become noticeable at about the age when children are given the MMR vaccine, but one does not cause the other. The majority of children are immunised, therefore children with and children without conditions such as autism, asthma or attention deficit disorder are just as likely to have received the same vaccines.

Over the past 30 years, more than 500 million doses of MMR vaccine have been given in over 90 countries. Experts from around the world, including the World Health Organization, agree that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or inflammatory bowel disease.

Studies to see if children who have been immunised are more likely to have these conditions have shown that there is no link between the conditions and vaccines. Extensive research into the MMR vaccine, involving thousands of children, was carried out in the UK, the USA, Sweden, and Finland. This research showed that there is no link between MMR and autism. A study looked at the vaccination records of every child born in Denmark from 1991 to 1998 (over half a million children). During that time, 82% of children born in Denmark received the MMR vaccine. The researchers found that the risk of autism was the same in immunised children and in children who had not been immunised.

The General Medical Council in the UK in May 2010 decided that Dr Andrew Wakefield should be removed from the medical register after finding him guilty of serious professional misconduct and unethical behaviour in relation to research he carried out on children. Dr Wakefield used the results of this research to falsely represent a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Several professional organisations dedicated to finding a cure for autism have published position statements regarding autism and vaccines.

Autism Speaks (2015), the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organisation has stated,

“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated”. 

What to expect after getting MMR vaccine?

After getting the vaccine, your child may have discomfort, redness or swelling around the area where the injection was given. They may be irritable and have a fever.

If this happens you can give them liquid infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen. You should also give them plenty to drink. Make sure they are not too warm and that their clothes are not rubbing against the injection area.

Children usually recover from these minor side effects within a day or two

Of the people who are immunised:

  • 1 in 10 will have discomfort, redness or swelling where the injection was given, or will have a fever
  • 1 in 20 will get a rash six to 12 days later(this is not contagious)
  • 1 in 20 get swollen glands, a stiff neck, or joint pains
  • 1 in 100 may develop swelling of the salivary glands under the jaw in the third week after vaccination (this is not contagious)
  • 1 in 1000 will have a convulsion (fit)
  • 1 in 22,000 will get a temporary blood clotting problem / bruising or bleeding
  • 1 in 10,000,000 may develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Serious side effects are very rare. 

If my child gets mini measles/mini mumps, can they spread the disease?


The MMR vaccine does not shed, therefore there is no risk of spreading measles infection after vaccination. There have been no reports of vaccinated people passing infection to contacts. 

It is very important that every child receives the MMR vaccine on time so they are protected from measles, mumps and rubella disease. 

How does MMR vaccine work?

The vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to build up protection against these diseases. 

How effective is MMR vaccine?

The full course of MMR vaccine offers good protection against measles for 99% of people, against rubella (German measles) for 99% of people and against mumps for 88% of people.

When the measles vaccine was introduced in Ireland in 1985, the number of cases of measles dropped from 10,000 in that year to 201 cases in 1987. Measles is highly infectious and the number of cases of measles and the complications of measles would increase rapidly if children were not given the MMR vaccine. 

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This page was updated on 21 June 2024