MMR Vaccine: How Safe is It?

I had to get a booster of my MMR when I was 15. The MMR vaccine is a vaccine that commonly is required in order for kids to remain in school, and protects against the measles, mumps, and rubella. Often (as was the case when I had to get another MMR vaccine), the vaccine is required when an outbreak of either mumps, measles, or rubella occurs in a certain area. Some kid got measles and brought it to school with him, infecting a lot of kids who weren’t already vaccinated and causing the entire school district to get an MMR vaccine whether they already had it or not, which is why I had to get an MMR booster myself.

At some point or another, parents have to face giving their children vaccinations in order to stay in school, the MMR vaccine among them. However, there are many reports of vaccinations causing dangerous side effects in kids, namely autism, and parents aren’t willing to take the risks. With nearly every state requiring the MMR vaccine to go to school (Medline Plus), how can parents know how safe this vaccine really is? Does the MMR vaccine really cause autism?

While the MMR vaccine does have some pretty unsavory side effects, it cannot cause autism, and there is no proven link to connect the MMR vaccine to autism at all. Even the link to severe brain damage or life-long seizures with the MMR vaccine is reportedly so incredibly rare that the connection between the two is actually disputed. In short, there is no proof that the MMR vaccine will cause brain damage or autism in people who receive it (any adult born after 1956 is recommended to get the MMR vaccine, and most modern-day children actually have to have the vaccine in order to attend school).

People born before 1956 are not advised to get the MMR vaccine simply because they are immune already to the diseases the vaccine protects against. Most people born before 1956 have already had measles, mumps, or rubella or at least have been exposed to the viruses, making them already immune. Anyone born after this date, however, is less likely to be exposed to or have these viruses, and the vaccine is highly recommended and/or required.

Parents concerned about the MMR vaccine should consider this: for every 1,000 cases of measles reported, 2 people will die from the disease. In comparison, severe side effects (potentially fatal) by the MMR vaccine is reportedly less than 1 per million, and this is due to an allergic reaction. Children without the MMR vaccine carry higher risk of death than those with the vaccination do.

While the MMR vaccine is not linked to autism, brain damage, or severe seizures, there are side effects that parents should keep in mind when receiving the vaccine, albeit pretty rare. Side effects of the MMR vaccine are: fever (1 in 6 children will get a fever due to the vaccine, and some of these children will get febrile seizures- see What is a Febrile Seizure? ), a rash (1 in 20 patients, it fades within a few days and usually has no other symptoms), swollen lymph nodes (very rare), a seizure (1 in 3,000 recipients will have one), pain in the joints (which affects 1 in 4 people, usually young women- I had aches and pains for about 24 hours), and low platelet count and/or bleeding ( 1 in 30,000 people). Most of these side effects are mild and fade within a few days.

There are a few people who should not get the MMR vaccine for safety reasons, including pregnant women or women who want to become pregnant in the next 3 months (immunity may not take and the woman can become ill or transfer diseases to her unborn child), people with HIV/AIDS, people undergoing chemotherapy or steroid treatments, or anyone with a compromised immune system. In general, however, the MMR vaccine is reported to be a safe vaccine for the general population with no link to autism.


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