The MMR vaccine is a combination vaccine for three common and dangerous viral diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella (sometimes called German measles). This vaccine has been available since 1971, and since its introduction, it has been almost the only vaccine used for these diseases in the US. Virtually everyone under the age of 40 has received this vaccine.
Dangers of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
Measles is a highly contagious disease, and during the pre-vaccination era, nearly every child got the disease. In the early 20th century, about 6000 people, mostly children, died from the measles every year. With improved hospital care, deaths dropped to about 500 a year, with around 50,000 children hospitalized and 4000 cases of encephalitis (swelling of the brain, which can itself be fatal or can cause lasting brain damage) because of measles.
Mumps is a less serious disease, but it can cause dangerous swelling of the brain, testicles, or ears, damaging those organs.
Rubella is also a less dangerous disease, although it does pose a serious risk to unborn children, who have a 20% risk of major birth defects if their mother contracts the disease early in pregnancy.
What’s in the MMR Vaccine?
The MMR vaccine contains live but weakened viruses. This means it’s called an attenuated virus vaccine. The purpose of the live viruses is to stimulate the body to produce an immunity. Unlike some viruses, dead viruses or antibodies from a person who has had the disease are not sufficient to lead to immunity for these viruses. The specific strains of virus used to produce immunity have been adjusted over the years to improve the immune response and reduce adverse reactions.
The MMR vaccine also contains traces of the growth and propagation media used to produce the viruses. Because some are grown in eggs, people with egg allergies may be at risk for an allergic response.
Effectiveness of the MMR Vaccine
The MMR vaccine is very effective. It produces immunity in more than 95% of people. To eliminate measles from the US, it was recommended that a second dose of the vaccine be administered, which creates immunity in an addition 3-4% of people. As a result, the measles, mumps, and rubella have all been eliminated in the US. However, cases associated with foreign travel or travelers have always been reported, and the spread of measles from these cases has increased as a result of more parents declining the MMR vaccine for their children.
If you have additional questions or concerns about the MMR vaccine, it is recommended that you talk to a doctor. If you are looking for a primary care physician in Littleton, CO, please contact Dr. Andy Fine for an appointment.