The MMR is a combined vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella / also known as German measles), given to prevent highly infectious viral diseases, which can be serious and potentially fatal complications including meningitis, encephalitis and deafness, to name a few.
The MMR vaccine is given as part of the immunisation schedules, the first at 13 months and the second between 4-6 years old (pre-school vaccination) and is recommended by both Dubai and UK health departments, as well as WHO (the world health organisation.) Immunisation schedules result from information provided to the health department by the countries respective immunisation advisory committees.
There is no benefit to single vaccine injections and it means more painful injections for your child.
The first MMR injection is advised around 13 months because the protective maternal antibodies, passed from mother to baby at the time of birth, have declined. A second booster jab is given at 4-6 years of age and our clinic advocates a third MMR dose around the age of 14 as evidence suggests declining immunity against measles, mumps and particularly rubella in females, around this age. This third dose acts as a second booster to the one given at 4-6 years of age.
The MMR vaccine can, and is, given earlier to babies over the age of 6 months in certain situations such as a measles outbreak in the area you live. Outbreaks of measles, mumps and rubella in the UK are rare since the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988. In Dubai there is the potential that a proportion of the resident population have not had the MMR vaccine, hence an increased risk of exposure to the diseases and increased importance of being fully vaccinated.
All vaccines are safe, including MMR.
There is anecdotal talk of links between MMR injections and conditions such as autism and sudden infant death syndrome. This is incorrect. A British and South African doctor presented evidence suggesting a link between the two but their evidence was subsequently found to be fraudulent and incorrect. Their work has sadly indirectly led to many unnecessary deaths and the British doctor was struck off the UK medical register as a result.
Signs of autism often develop around the time that the first MMR vaccination is given, which has also led to some people linking the two. However, there is absolutely no medical or scientific evidence to support this.
Vaccines prevent infectious diseases that once killed or harmed many infants, children, and adults. They mimic disease causing our immune systems to produce antibodies and defense cells, that in the future can recognise and destroy the virus or bacterial should it be encountered, preventing illness. Simply, they give immunity (protection) without suffering the illness itself.
Without vaccines, your child is at risk for getting seriously ill and suffering pain, disability, and even death from diseases such as measles (approximately 1-2 in in 1000 children who contract measles will die).
Millions and millions of vaccines have been given to children over the last 50 years around the world and there is no medical or scientific evidence, from thousands of worldwide independent studies, to support any link or long term detrimental effects.
There is, however a small risk of short term side effects after immunisation injections, including a painful injection site, fever, a mild rash and occasionally stiff joints (mainly in women). Severe allergic reactions are very rare but if it were to occur, doctors are experienced in the treatment. MMR has been linked to a very low increased risk in the first week after the injections of febrile seizures, and there are no long-term effects of this.
Children and adults, who have missed or partially completed the MMR injections or who cannot remember should have ‘catch up’ doses. If you have lived in different countries growing up, be aware that some countries immunisation schedules do not, or did not, include MMR. If you are unsure, it is recommended to get 2 MMR injections.
Women should have their immunity to measles, mumps and rubella checked prior to getting pregnant as contracting any of the 3 can lead to birth defects. If you have no immunity, the MMR vaccine can be given and there should be a 1-month gap between injection and conception and the MMR vaccine is not given if you are already pregnant.
Some other questions I am asked as a GP around vaccines in general
Q. Can my child’s immune system cope with all the vaccines advised?
Put simply, yes. A baby is exposed to thousands of viruses and bacteria from the day they are born which their immune system deals with admirably, often without any sign of illness. The immune system is under constant attack by many viruses daily and the few vaccines that are currently given, (around 16 for children in Dubai), compared to the number of viruses that the immune system can deal with is quite minute.
Q. The risk of my child getting one of the illness is so low, do you really think is is worth the risk of a vaccination?
The risk of getting any of the diseases vaccinated against is very low. However, we have established that vaccines are safe and so the risk of an allergic reaction is extremely low, but granted there is still a tiny risk. I often answer this question with an analogy – you don’t wear a car seatbelt because you expect a serious car accident, you wear it to protect yourself from serious injury in the unlikely event of a crash. Vaccines are given to prevent life changing consequences or death in the unlikely event you contract a disease.
Q. After vaccination, can you actually get that disease in the future?
Yes, but highly unlikely and if you do it will almost certainly be less severe. Around 1-5% of vaccinated people do not develop full immunity.
Q. Can the vaccine give you the disease?
This is a two-part answer. There are 2 types of vaccines given, either a ‘live’ (tiny dose of the real disease) or ‘dead’ (inactivated). With live vaccines the answer is almost certainly not, but sometimes a person will develop what looks like a mild form of the disease (i.e. measles), but the full-blown disease is extremely unlikely. It is impossible to get the disease from inactivated vaccines.
Q. Should vaccinations be given if I’m breastfeeding?
Yes, because all babies need to be protected with vaccines at the recommended ages. Breast milk provides important protection from some infections as your baby’s immune system is developing. For example, babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of ear infections, respiratory tract infections, and diarrhoea. However, breast milk does not protect children against all diseases. Even in breastfed infants, vaccines are the most effective way to prevent many diseases.
About the Author:
Dr Richard Jones BSc MRCS MRCGP DipSEM is a Family Medicine Specialist working at Keith Nicholl Medical Centre as a GP, seeing both children and adults. He also has qualifications and extensive experience in Sports Medicine and has been in Dubai for nearly 10 years so is well placed to advise on how to avoid medical pitfalls that Dubai can present.
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