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What is MMR vaccine?

Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is a ‘live’ virus vaccine that contains measles, mumps and rubella viruses that have been weakened (or attenuated) to produce an immune response that protects people against natural infection without causing the diseases themselves.

When are children vaccinated against measles?

Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), two doses of MMR containing vaccine are given to all children; the first is given at 12 months of age and another one is given at 18 months of age.

The second dose at 18 months of age is usually a combined vaccine against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox (varicella), called an MMRV vaccine.

Can infants under 12 months be vaccinated for measles if they are travelling overseas?

Yes, if they are 6 months of age or older.

Infants travelling overseas to places where measles is circulating can be vaccinated with an MMR vaccine from 6 months of age. This pre-travel dose is free to infants (although your doctor may charge a consultation fee).

Measles vaccine may also be provided to infants between 6 and 12 months of age if they have recently been exposed to someone with measles while they were infectious.

It is important to remember that if an infant receives an MMR vaccine early (that is, before 12 months of age) they still need to have another two doses of MMR. They should receive the next dose of MMR vaccine at 12 months of age or 4 weeks after the 1st dose, whichever is later. The second MMR dose is given at 18 months of age.

How effective is the measles vaccine?

A single dose of MMR vaccine is approximately 95% effective against measles, 78% effective against mumps, and 99% effective against rubella. After a second MMR dose, protection increases to 99% against measles and 88% against mumps.

A second dose of MMR vaccine is recommended so that anyone who did not respond to the first vaccine is given a chance to develop protective immunity against the three viruses.

Who shouldn’t be vaccinated against measles?

Some people should not have the MMR vaccine. This includes:

  • infants under 6 months of age
  • pregnant women
  • people with significant immunocompromise
  • people with a history of strong allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to MMR vaccine or its components.

For more information see the Australian Immunisation Handbook’s measles vaccination information.

Is it safe to get a measles vaccine when you can’t remember if you have had one before?

It is safe to have another MMR vaccine unless you are someone who should not normally have an MMR vaccine (see Who shouldn’t be vaccinated against measles?).

How long do measles vaccines last? Will I need a booster?

People who receive two doses of MMR are generally considered protected for life so there is no need for a booster dose later on.

Can you still get measles if you have been vaccinated?

Medical studies estimate 1 out of 100 people who have had two doses of measles vaccine will develop measles if they are exposed to someone else who has the infection.

It is not clear why; it could be that their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine or that their immune system’s ability to fight the infection decreased over time. Vaccinated people who develop measles generally have milder symptoms.

Why don’t people born before 1966 need a measles vaccination?

Measles vaccination is not recommended for people born before 1966 as the virus circulated widely in the community prior to this time and most people would have acquired immunity from natural infection.

Why are you concerned about people born between 1966 and 1994?

Measles vaccination with one dose was introduced in the late 1960s and measles cases dropped dramatically. In 1994, a second measles dose was added to the national childhood immunisation schedule to increase the level of measles protection in the community.

People born between 1966 and 1994 are known to be at a greater risk of measles because they are less likely to have had a measles vaccine or they have had only one dose. Because there was less measles disease in the community (due to the measles vaccine) these people are also less likely to have immunity from natural infection than people born before 1966.

If you're in this age group and not sure if you have had two measles doses you should check with your GP. It's safe to have another measles dose if you're not sure, particularly if you’re planning to travel overseas.

If you have not had any measles vaccinations then you should have two doses given at least 4 weeks apart.

How can I check if I have had a measles vaccine in the past?

You can check for your immunisation records on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR). The AIR is a national register that can record vaccines given to people of all ages in Australia. This includes all vaccines funded under the National Immunisation Program, most school based vaccines provided under State and Territory vaccination programs and most privately funded vaccines including influenza and travel vaccines.

Unfortunately, measles vaccines given prior to 1994 are less likely to be recorded on the AIR, and not all immunisation providers update the AIR. You should check your vaccination records including those that might be with your parents. You can also check with the GP or other immunisation provider where you had your vaccinations.

Can pharmacists give measles vaccinations in NSW?

Yes, in some cases.

From 14 September 2023, changes to regulations in NSW mean that appropriately trained community pharmacists (that is, pharmacists that have undertaken an approved course and whose practice meets the NSW Pharmacy Vaccination Standards) can give National Immunisation Program (NIP) and privately funded measles vaccinations to people aged 5 years and over.

See the Pharmacist initiation and administration of vaccines webpage for more information on who is eligible for free NIP/Commonwealth/state funded vaccines from a community pharmacy.

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Current as at: Thursday 14 December 2023
Contact page owner: Communicable Diseases