Adult MMR Vaccine: What to Know

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Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) are viral illnesses that can be largely prevented through the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Measles causes a cough and rash that lasts for about 14 days. Mumps causes painful swelling of the salivary glands as well as fever and headache. Rubella, also known as German measles, is usually characterized by a mild rash and flu-like symptoms. In rare cases, measles, mumps, and rubella can all be fatal, and rubella is also linked to pregnancy complications, including stillbirth. 

All three diseases have been declared eradicated in the United States due to the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine is usually given to children in two doses—once between the ages of 12 months and 15 months and once between 4 years and 6 years.

The vaccine provides lifelong protection from measles, mumps, and rubella. The adults who don’t have immunity through vaccination or through prior infection can also get the MMR vaccine.

Read on to learn more about the MMR vaccine for adults, including the recommended schedule and possible side effects.

MMR vaccine

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Measles, Mumps, and Rubella

Measles, mumps, and rubella were once common childhood illnesses, but they have been largely eradicated in the United States through the use of the MMR vaccine. The vaccine has been available since 1971.

Still, occasional infections from these viruses do occur in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Also, cases have been rising in recent years due to people not vaccinating their children with the MMR vaccine. Since these diseases are still around, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and seek medical attention if you believe you’re infected.

Measles

The symptoms of measles include:

  • Fever that starts low and increases daily, reaching 104 degrees or higher by the fifth day
  • Dry cough
  • Congestion
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Small, white spots with a red background (known as Koplik's spots) inside the mouth
  • A red, itchy, blotchy rash that starts at the hairline about three to five days after the beginning of illness and spreads down the body

Mumps

The symptoms of mumps appear as long as 25 days after exposure to the virus. They include:

  • Fever that starts low and climbs to around 103 degrees
  • Headache
  • Pain and tenderness while chewing or swallowing
  • Muscle aches and fatigue

Rarely, mumps can also cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and neck pain. 

Rubella

Rubella is generally a very mild illness, but it can be very serious for pregnant people. The symptoms of rubella include:

  • A rash that begins on the face and moves down the body
  • Mild flu-like symptoms that appear before the rash
  • Conjunctivitis

Three Immunizations in One

Measles, mumps, and rubella are effective in a combination vaccine, and getting three immunizations in one shot reduces the risk of vaccine reactions.

MMR Vaccine for Adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the adult MMR vaccine for people who didn’t get vaccinated as children or who don’t have natural immunity after infection. If you didn’t get the MMR vaccine as a child or are unsure if you got the vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be vaccinated as an adult.

Schedule

Most adults need only one dose of the MMR vaccine. However, two doses given 28 days apart are recommended for people who are at higher risk for measles, mumps, or rubella, including:

  • Students living in a dorm or other community setting
  • Healthcare workers
  • People traveling internationally

Side Effects

It’s common to experience some mild side effects after vaccination. The side effects of the MMR vaccine for adults include:

  • A sore arm at the injection site
  • Swelling in the cheeks or neck, and pain or stiffness in the joints (more common in women)

Who Should Not Get the Vaccine

Most adults who haven’t had the MMR vaccine should get one. However, people born before 1957 likely don’t need the vaccine, since almost everyone was infected with these illnesses as children and therefore have immunity.

The MMR vaccine can have serious side effects for some people. You should talk to your healthcare provider about whether to get the MMR vaccine if you:

  • Have life-threatening allergies or a history of serious vaccine reactions
  • Have a weakened immune system or a parent or sibling with a weakened immune system
  • Have conditions that cause you to bleed or bruise easily or have had a blood transfusion recently
  • Have tuberculosis
  • Are considering getting pregnant. Pregnant people should not get the MMR vaccine 

Summary

The MMR vaccine is usually given in childhood to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine for adults is recommended for those who were not vaccinated as children and have not contracted these illnesses.

A Word From Verywell

The MMR vaccine is highly effective, with a decades-long safety profile. If you weren’t vaccinated as a child, it's never too late to get the MMR vaccine, which offers protection for life. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether the MMR vaccine is right for you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can the MMR vaccine help protect against COVID-19?

    There is some research indicating that the MMR vaccine may help protect against COVID-19. One study found that people with more mumps antibodies—most often obtained from vaccination—were less likely to be infected with COVID-19. More research is needed, however. 

  • Why do vaccines make your arm sore?

    Vaccines cause your body to mount an immune response. This begins at the injection site, causing inflammation, which can make your arm sore. The discomfort usually goes away within a day or two. 

  • How long does the MMR vaccine last?

    The MMR vaccine offers protection for life from measles, mumps, and rubella. 

  • When did the MMR vaccine come out?

    The MMR vaccine came out in 1971. Since then, it has been used to eradicate these viral illnesses in the United States. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) VIS.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Q&As about Monovalent M-M-R Vaccine.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles, mumps, and rubella (Mmr) vaccination.

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.