The MMR vaccine helps to protect babies against measles, mumps and rubella. It is sometimes also offered to adults who missed their childhood immunisations.

What are measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella are highly infectious diseases that can leave children suffering serious medical complications. However, the high number of people getting the MMR vaccine in Scotland means there's been a big reduction in the number of people catching these diseases.

Learn more about measles

Learn more about mumps

Learn more about rubella

Why should a baby be vaccinated?

The vaccine makes a child’s immune system respond to and ‘remember’ the viruses. This means that if the child is infected with the real viruses their immune system will quickly recognise them and act to stop the infection.

Sarah's story: A life changed by measles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2AWjToUJs8)

Sarah wasn't vaccinated against measles as a child because she had eczema (medical advice on this has since changed). She fell seriously ill with measles when she was 5 and was left with lasting disabilities including deafness, partial sight and learning difficulties.

Her mother Audrey talks about the impact this has had on Sarah and the whole family.

Who is eligible for the vaccine?

All babies and children in Scotland are eligible for the MMR vaccine. Some young people and adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine may also be eligible.

Can I have the MMR vaccine if I'm pregnant?

As a precaution, the MMR vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.

You should also avoid becoming pregnant for 1 month after having the MMR vaccine. Let your GP or midwife know if you had the MMR vaccine while you were pregnant. Evidence suggests there will be no harm to your baby, but it's better to let them know.

When will a child be offered immunisation?

The MMR vaccine is offered to all children in Scotland. You will receive an invite from your local health board, inviting you to a vaccination clinic. You do not need to book your appointment.

Children will be offered the MMR vaccine in 2 doses:

  • The first between 12 and 13 months
  • The second at 3 years 4 months

Although normally given at these times, if it's missed, it can be given at any age.

Young people who haven’t had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine as a child should contact their local health board about getting their free MMR vaccine. It protects against measles, mumps and rubella – all of which can be very serious diseases and are highly infectious

Find out how to contact your health board regarding your vaccination appointment

If you're unsure if you've had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine

Phone your GP surgery to check you've had both doses if you:

  • are unsure if you've had both doses
  • are about to start college or university
  • are going to travel abroad
  • are planning a pregnancy
  • are a frontline health or social care worker
  • were born between 1970 and 1979, as you may have only been vaccinated against measles
  • were born between 1980 and 1990, as you may not be protected against mumps

Your GP will check your records and be able to advise if it is clinically appropriate for you to receive an MMR vaccine.

To arrange a vaccine, contact your local health board.

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the MMR vaccine, contact:

The vaccine

The MMR vaccine is the best way to protect babies against mumps, measles and rubella.

What vaccine is used?

The MMRVAXPRO and Priorix vaccines are routinely used in Scotland.

You can view the vaccine ingredients in the patient information leaflets:

MMRVAXPRO and Priorix are combined MMR vaccines, meaning the child is protected from measles, mumps and rubella as quickly and safely as possible.

To immunise against each of the 3 diseases separately would mean 6 injections over a longer period of time. The result would be:

  • more risk of catching a disease
  • more risk of missing a dose completely
  • more risk of pain where the injections are given
  • more distress for the child

Single vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella aren't available in the UK immunisation programme.

How effective is the MMR vaccine?

The World Health Organization states that MMR is a highly effective vaccine with an outstanding safety record. There are no countries that recommend vaccination with the 3 separate vaccines.

How many doses of the vaccine does a baby need?

A child will have the MMR vaccine in 2 doses:

  • The first between 12 and 13 months
  • The second at 3 years 4 months

Although normally given at these times, if it's missed, it can be given at any age.

The second dose of the MMR vaccine gives the best level of protection to the most number of children.

After the first dose, between 5% and 10% of children aren't protected against each of the diseases because their immune system hasn't responded to the vaccine. After 2 doses of MMR, less than 1% of children are left unprotected against measles.

To give the public the best protection, at least 95% of the population needs to be immunised against the viruses. Because of the children who don't respond to the first dose and those who don't attend for immunisation, this number can only be achieved with a second dose being given to every child.

Almost all children who didn't respond to the first dose will be protected against measles, mumps and rubella with a second dose.

What if I haven't had 2 doses as a child?

As part of the routine immunisations offered at secondary school, NHS Scotland will check if you've had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. If you haven't had 2 doses, you'll be offered the MMR vaccine at secondary school.

There's a minimum interval of 4 weeks between each dose of the vaccine.

Young people not in secondary school, who haven't had both doses as a child, should contact their local health board to book their free MMR immunisation appointment.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

Over 500 million doses of MMR have been used in over 90 countries around the world since the early 1970s.

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

Are there any reasons someone shouldn't have the MMR vaccine?

There are some serious medical conditions that mean not everyone can have the MMR vaccine. They shouldn't have MMR if they've had a severe reaction to MMR before, or:

  • have significant immunosuppression
  • have severe allergies to neomycin or kanamycin (types of antibiotic)
  • are pregnant

Women should also avoid becoming pregnant for 1 month after having the MMR vaccine.

In some cases having the MMR vaccine should be put off until a later date. You or the child you care for should wait to have the MMR if you or they have a very high fever, or have had:

  • another live vaccine (including BCG) in the last 4 weeks
  • an injection of immunoglobulin (antibodies) in the last 3 months

The MMR vaccine will be offered even if you or the child receiving the vaccination has:

  • asthma, eczema, hay fever, or most food intolerances
  • a minor illness without a fever, like a cold
  • been given antibiotics
  • been using a cream or inhaler that contains steroids
  • minor infections without fever
  • an egg allergy
Is there pork gelatine in the MMR vaccine?

Pork gelatine is an ingredient in one of the MMR vaccines currently used in Scotland.

Gelatine is an essential ingredient in many medicines, including some vaccines. If you've any concerns about this, please speak to your GP, practice nurse, or health visitor before you attend your immunisation appointment. There are alternative MMR vaccines available that don't contain pork gelatine.

Many faith groups, including Muslim and Jewish communities, have approved the use of vaccines that contain gelatine. However, it's an individual choice whether or not to receive this vaccine and NHS Scotland recognises that there'll be different views held within different communities.

After the vaccine

The MMR vaccine is made from weakened forms of the natural viruses. The viruses in the vaccine have been changed so in most cases they'll cause no symptoms or only very mild symptoms.

Vaccines protect babies against the risk of very serious infections and should not be delayed.

Side effects

Side effects of MMR may be:

  • a mild rash (this rash isn't infectious)
  • a fever that develops a week or two after the vaccine and lasts 1 to 3 days
  • swollen lymph glands that develop 2 to 3 weeks later
  • sore or stiff joints that can last from a couple of days to a few weeks

These side effects will pass in a short time.

MMR very rarely causes serious side effects, and the numbers are small compared to the side effects caused by the diseases. For example, a child with measles has a one in a thousand chance of developing meningitis. In comparison, a child who has had the first dose of the MMR vaccine has less than a one in a million chance of developing meningitis.

Fever can be expected after any vaccination. Fevers are usually mild, so you only need to give a dose of infant paracetamol if the child is uncomfortable. Read the instructions on the bottle very carefully.

Remember, never give medicines that contain aspirin to children under 16.

Information about treating fever in children

In infants who do develop a fever after vaccination, the fever tends to peak around 6 hours after vaccination. It is nearly always gone completely within 2 days.

Ibuprofen can also be used to treat a fever and other post-vaccination reactions. Read the instructions on the product packing very carefully. Giving ibuprofen at the time of vaccination to prevent a fever is not effective.

Immediate action required: Phone 999 for an ambulance and seek help immediately if:

  • the child has a fit

If you think the child is seriously ill, trust your instincts and seek urgent medical advice.

Urgent advice: Phone your GP immediately if:

  • the child has a temperature of 39°C or above
  • the child still has a fever 48 hours after vaccination
  • if you are concerned about the child's health at any time

If your GP is closed, call NHS24 on 111.

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0800 731 6789 (available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the side effects of the MMR vaccine, contact:

Vaccine Safety Net Member

Public Health Scotland is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net and partners with NHS inform to provide reliable information on vaccine safety.

The Vaccine Safety Net is a global network of websites, evaluated by the World Health Organization, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net

Further information and other languages and formats:

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English (Audio)
English (Easy Read)
English (Large Print)
Kurdish Sorani
Simplified Chinese (Mandarin)

Last updated:
06 October 2023

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