HomeHealth TopicVaccines

The MMR and MMRV Vaccines: Measles Vaccinations for Adults and Children

Megan N. Freeland, PharmD, RPh
Published on October 15, 2018

In 2000, measles was finally declared eradicated from the US thanks to a mass vaccination campaign. Vaccinations were up and measles cases were down by 99%. Now, the opposite trend is occurring. Vaccination rates are declining, and measles outbreaks have happened as recently as 2015.

Today, we have two vaccines to protect against measles: the MMR vaccine and the MMRV vaccine. The MMR vaccine (named M-M-R II) protects against three infectious diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. A second type of measles vaccine, MMRV (named ProQuad), protects against these three conditions, as well as chickenpox (varicella).

Portrait of a family with two kids sitting on the edge of the back trunk of a van.
kate_sept2004/E+ via Getty Images

What are measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox?

There’s a good reason why there are vaccines for these diseases—they can cause some serious and deadly health problems. Here’s a quick rundown:

Measles

  • Symptoms: fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, white spots inside the mouth, and a flat, red rash that spreads

  • How it spreads: travels by air through coughs and sneezes (virus can linger in the air for hours)

  • Complications it can cause: ear infections leading to permanent hearing loss, pneumonia, death

Mumps

  • Symptoms: swollen salivary glands under the ears, loss of appetite, fever, aches

  • How it spreads: spread through saliva & mucus, i.e., coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils

  • Complications it can cause: deafness, inflammation of the testicles/ovaries/brain

Rubella

  • Symptoms: red rash on the face and then the rest of body, fever, headache, pink eye

  • How it spreads: travels by air through coughs and sneezes

  • Complications it can cause: arthritis in women, birth defects or miscarriage in pregnant women

Chickenpox

  • Symptoms: itchy rash that spreads then scabs over, fever, tiredness, headache, loss of appetite

  • How it’s transmitted: travels through droplets in the air from sick people breathing or talking

  • Complications it can cause: bacterial skin infections, pneumonia, brain inflammation, blood stream infection, dehydration

How does the measles vaccine work?

After two doses, the MMR and MMRV vaccines are about 97% effective against measles, 88% effective against mumps, and 97% effective against rubella. Additionally, the MMRV vaccine is about 95% effective against chickenpox. It can take up to 14 days after vaccination with either vaccine to be fully protected.

The MMR and MMRV vaccines have several benefits. They prevent serious measles-related complications, like pneumonia and death. Also, according to the CDC, “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.” So, by getting your children and yourself vaccinated, you’re helping to keep measles out of our daycares, schools, colleges, amusement parks and other community areas.

What’s in them?

Both vaccines contain live, attenuated (weakened) viruses. Live viruses are much weaker versions of the natural germ. They don’t have enough strength to cause the actual disease.

Because live, weakened viruses are so similar to natural viruses, your immune system has a strong response to them. That means two things:

  1. You’re better protected against the virus.

  2. It only takes one or two doses of vaccine to have lifetime protection.

Age recommendations and dosing schedules

When should children get the measles vaccine?

Children between the ages of 12 months and 12 years can get either the MMR or MMRV vaccine. Children 12 years of age and older should only get the MMR vaccine.

Dosing schedules for both vaccines are similar. It’s recommended that children get the first of two doses when they are 12 – 15 months old. For the second dose, the official recommendation is for children to get it when they are 4 – 6 years old.

Before any international travel, children 12 months of age or older should get both doses of either the MMR or MMRV vaccine.

Should children younger than 12 months old get the vaccine?

Only before traveling internationally, children between 6 and 11 months of age should receive one dose of either the MMR or MMRV vaccine.

This dose won’t count towards the standard child dosing schedule. When the child is 12 – 15 months old, they should get the first of the two routine doses, then get the second dose when they are between 4 and 6 years old.

Can adults get the measles vaccine?

Yes, adults should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine if they didn’t receive the vaccine as a child, but there are special recommendations for certain groups.

Ideally, women of childbearing age should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine before becoming pregnant. Once pregnant, they won’t be able to get vaccinated until 4 weeks after delivery.

Before working in a healthcare setting, attending college or traveling internationally, adolescents and adults should get two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Who should NOT get the measles vaccine?

The MMR and MMRV vaccines aren’t recommended for everyone.

The MMR vaccine should not be given to anyone who meets one or more of these criteria:

  • Has a life-threatening allergy to the MMR vaccine

  • Is allergic to the antibiotic neomycin (If you’re allergic to topical ointments like Neosporin, you might be allergic to neomycin.)

  • Is pregnant or has delivered in the past 4 weeks

The MMRV vaccine should not be given to anyone who meets one or more of these criteria:

  • Is above the age of 12

  • Has a life-threatening allergy to the MMR vaccine

  • Is allergic to the antibiotic neomycin (If you’re allergic to topical ointments like Neosporin, you might be allergic to neomycin.)

  • Is pregnant or has delivered in the past 4 weeks

  • Has a weakened immune system or has immediate family with weakened immune systems

  • Has a personal or family history of seizures

  • Is taking salicylates like aspirin or magnesium salicylate

  • Has tuberculosis

  • Has received any other vaccines within the past 4 weeks

  • Has had a recent blood transfusion

  • Has any conditions that cause easy bruising or bleeding

What are potential side effects of the measles vaccine?

The MMR and MMRV vaccines are safe and well-tolerated, but all drugs and vaccines carry a risk of side effects. With the MMR and MMRV vaccines, the most common side effects are sore arm, fever and mild rash. Serious events could occur but don’t happen often. They could include seizure caused by a fever, swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck, severe allergic reactions or deafness.

Can the measles vaccine cause autism?

In 1998, a research study was published that incorrectly linked the MMR vaccine to autism in eight British children. Years later, after substantial research showed the MMR vaccine is not linked to autism, the false 1998 article was retracted. The primary author confessed that he had intentionally made up the data.

Since that time, vaccine experts at the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have performed their own studies and concluded that vaccines do not cause autism.

Researchers have acknowledged that the age at which many children are getting the MMR vaccine is the same age when signs of autism can become noticeable.

How much does the measles vaccine cost?

As a part of standard childhood vaccine recommendations, most insurance plans will cover these vaccines—but they can be pricey without insurance. Retail prices for the MMR and MMRV vaccines are around $100 and $200, respectively. If you need help paying for a vaccine, these GoodRx coupons may be useful.

Children 18 years old or younger can get free vaccines through the Vaccines for Children program, as long as they fall into at least one of these categories:

  • Uninsured or underinsured

  • Medicaid-eligible

  • American Indian/Alaskan Native

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