Is the MMR Vaccine Safe?

Paul A. Offit, MD, explains that the combination measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has been in use since 1971, and it has proven to be remarkably effective and safe.


Is the MMR vaccine safe?

Paul Offit, MD:  Hi, my name is Paul Offit, talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. And I thought I would address the question of whether the combination measles, mumps, rubella, or MMR vaccine, is safe.

So the first measles vaccine was introduced in 1963; the mumps vaccine in 1967; the rubella, or German measles, vaccine in 1969. And then those three vaccines were combined into a single shot, the so-called MMR vaccine, in 1971. So it’s been around for more than 40 years.

What have we learned? We’ve learned it’s remarkably effective. The measles essentially was eliminated from this country in 2000. Unfortunately, today, and I’m talking to you in 2015, there is some people have chosen not to get that vaccine, so you’re starting to see herd immunity erode. And you’re starting to see measles come back a little bit. We essentially eliminated rubella, or German measles virus, by 2005 in this country. So the vaccines certainly are effective.

But I think the question is, by combining it did we make it less safe? We certainly know that all the studies that were done at the time showed that there was no difference in the safety profile, or immunogenicity profile, when you combine the vaccine, so together, as compared to given them separately.

In the late 1990s, however, there was a question raised by a British researcher that those three vaccines given together was contributing to autism. That was a testable question, it’s been tested and studied. We now have looked at hundreds of thousands of children on three continents, making sure that those children were the same in terms of their socioeconomic background, or their medical seeking, healthcare seeking behavior, or their medical background, to make sure we can isolate the effect of that one variable, receipt MMR vaccine.

And what you find is that children who got MMR vaccine are no more likely to develop autism than children who didn’t get that vaccine. So a choice not to get an MMR vaccine is not a choice to lessen your risk of autism. It’s just a choice to increase your risk of getting measles, mumps or rubella.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Apr 20, 2015