Mild or intermediate reactions to MMR
Most children who have the MMR vaccine do not have any problems with it or if reactions do occur they are usually mild. (See 'No reactions to MMR'.) The risk of the MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.
The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.
The most likely reactions after having the MMR vaccine are mild symptoms that are like the diseases that the immunisations protect children from, such as redness, pain and/or swelling at the injection site, a mild rash, and a mild fever (affecting up to 1 in 10 people at each dose- Oxford University - Oxford Vaccine Group June 2019). They usually last for a short duration and are not infectious to others. If these problems occur, it is usually within 7-10 days after the injection. Swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck can also occur two to three weeks after the injection but it is rare.
Intermediate reactions can occur such as a febrile convulsion (a fit) (affecting up to 1 in 1000 people at each dose - Oxford University - Oxford Vaccine Group June 2019). Fits are more common as a result of measles infection than they are as a result of the MMR vaccine. A febrile fit can happen with a fever from any cause and is treated by keeping the child cool.
In about 1 in every 24,000 doses of vaccine, a skin rash of small, bruise-like spots develops up to six weeks after vaccination (called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP). This can also occur after measles or rubella infection, and is more common as a result of the diseases than as a result of the vaccine.You should consult your doctor if your child experiences fits or a rash that looks like ITP after vaccination. (Oxford University - Oxford Vaccine Group June 2019)
A small number of parents we interviewed mentioned that their child had a small swelling where the injection was given that had disappeared quickly. One mother said her son had a mild rash during the week after his MMR vaccine, which went after twenty-four hours.
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It was a relief when I did it. It was a relief even the day I did it. I didn't realise how worried I was till I actually did it. And I did it and I was like, 'It's done now. It's done'. And I, and I worried, not worried, but the first week I watched and he had the little rash and, but he had no side-effects apart from that. And I think, I think you're meant to look, I think it's six weeks is it, that you're meant to look for, that things could crop up in six weeks? And I think after a week I'd completely forgotten.
And when he had the, the rash what were your'describe to me about that and what you did?
I was fine with it. I know other mothers that babies have had the rash. And it was just on his trunk, it was very pale, I just saw it in the bath. I think it had faded by the morning. I had the leaflet. The leaflet was good, you know, I read that over and over again to check. And they said, and it was exactly when they said, you know, two or three days after the injection he had it, and he did and it went and he was fine. And, and that was it. And I think, I think really within the next sort of week I just did forget about it. And now I'm, I mean I'm just relieved I did it. I'm relieved he's, he's okay.
A couple of mothers recalled that their daughters had been irritable or down in the dumps for a few days, which had worried them at first. But these reactions had passed and they had returned to being their normal selves.
- At time of interview' married, two children, aged 5 years (daughter), aged 19 months (son). Parent's occupation' Mother- Housewife, Father- Business Advisor. Ethnic background' White-British.
But then we talked about it again and then made that decision that yes I think that we are going to do it. But saying that, still had total reservations right up until the day that she had it and hoping, you know, that we had made the right decision and, and for about 12-14 days she was really not the same little girl in that she was very, you know, she'd always been very smiley, very happy and suddenly she was very irritable all the time. And in fact I think about 10 days into it I phoned the health visitor again and said, 'I've got some real concerns, you know.' And sort of really thought, 'Oh, perhaps she has now got autism or something.' And the health visitor said, 'Look, give it another couple of days. If you're still unsure about it give me a call and I'll come back out and see you.' And it was almost in those couple of days that as if like, you know, I click my fingers and she'd gone back to the same little girl. But it wasn't anything major that she, you know, she wasn't unwell in any way, she was just a lot more as if she was unwell basically. It was just that she was down in the dumps and very, like I say, always very moany, very kind of.
So really, and then like as, the next months went on I was still kind of looking at her and thinking, 'Oh, is, is she OK with this? Has she been affected?' And then as the months went by and then you thought, 'Oh, it's fine, everything's OK.'
- At time of interview' married, one daughter, aged 16 months. Parent's occupation' Mother- Civil Servant MOD, Father- RAF. Ethnic background' White-British.
It was very upsetting, my husband came with me, like I said, and I think I'd got myself in such a state about whether I'd made the right decision that, that was a lot to do with it. I, obviously you're upset because you don't like to see your child in pain, albeit for just a couple of seconds, and in fact after I'd left the room and left my daughter with my husband she let out a yell as you would expect if somebody had stuck a pin in you and as soon as she did she stopped and she was perfectly fine and that pleased me immensely because I, you know, you didn't know if there was going to be some sort of immediate effect. But she was ok, I was in bits and then we, and then we brought her home.
And they warn you that straight away afterwards they might, even if it's just a small bump to the arm or, or raised skin and or some redness and swelling. But luckily for us our daughter didn't react too badly, maybe a little tired, more tired than usual.
She was unwell for a few days afterwards, but nothing you could pinpoint. She didn't come out in a great big rash, and she didn't have swollen glands all round her neck. But the only way I could describe it was that she just wasn't 100 per cent. She just wasn't herself. But at the same time she was teething so it's, it's hard to, hard to tell. But definitely a different little girl, but not, you know, she still ate, she still drank, she still did all the things you expected her to do, she still slept, but just maybe was a bit under the weather is probably the best way of putting it.
We did not interview any parent whose child had an intermediate reaction to the MMR vaccine as listed above.
One mother we interviewed talked about the unusually strong local reaction her children had after the second dose of MMR. This reaction was extremely rare. In her son's case, swelling which started in the arm where the injection was given spread across his chest and he had to be in hospital on antibiotics for three days.
- At time of interview' cohabiting four children, aged 10 years (daughter), 8 years (daughter), 6 years (daughter), 4 years (son). Parent's occupation' Mother- Full time Mum, Father - Painter/Decorator. Ethnic background' White-British.
He was fine with the injection, well cried and screamed like they usually do. Everything seemed fine, came home and it was a little bit red and bit irritated and bit swollen, which they usually are. And then I'd say it were twelve hours later, well I can't remember what time he had this injection, I think he had the injection around dinnertime. So it was late at night, he was screaming so I went into his bedroom and his arm was swollen up by this time. And it was horrendous, horrible, worse, ten times worse than what my daughter's were. He was writhing about on the bed, screaming. And he said, he wanted the doctor. I mean, he doesn't like doctors, you know, he never liked them. He's been in and out of hospital with his ears and then his nose and things, because he gets nosebleeds. And just screaming, 'Get the doctor, get the doctor, get the doctor.' I mean I was in two minds whether to go to casualty with him at that time, but I left it until the next day.
Went to see the GP, she gave him some antihistamines. She said it's just a reaction, he's had. Came home, he had another night of it really bad, screaming, crying and it was just huge, his arm was just huge... couldn't move, couldn't do a thing.
The next day I had to take my daughter somewhere, my mum watched him here. I came back after about an hour and a half and he'd been laid on the kitchen floor because it's tiles, it's cold. His arm was oozing fluid from blisters. Just blistered, tight, and he was distraught. He was only four year old, he was absolutely distraught. I rang the doctor's and, I wasn't hysterical but they were, 'Well you've missed the emergency appointment time or whatever it is.' And I was, 'Well I'm going to see, I'm going straight to casualty and I'm telling them that you wouldn't speak to me, you know, you wouldn't see the doctor or any, my child or anything.' So they got me in to see the doctor again and she just wrote me a letter to say that he needs to be in hospital. So, I went to casualty and they kept him in then, which was horrible.
And he was in, how long was in there?
Three days. On a very high dose of antibiotics. Because they didn't, they didn't think that he could react to a vaccine like that. They didn't understand why, they thought it were infection. I don't know where they thought it had come from, I don't know.
Last reviewed August 2019.
Last updated August 2019.