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Measles vaccine

Date last reviewed: 
Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023


What is the measles vaccine?

The measles vaccine protects against measles, a very contagious virus that can lead to complications. The measles vaccine is given as the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. 

Who should get the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine?

  • The MMR vaccine is given to children as a series of 2 doses. The first dose is given at 12 months, and the second dose is given at 4 - 6 years of age. For children who also need protection against chickenpox (varicella), the 2nd dose of vaccine can be given as the combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.
  • Older children and teens who have not been immunized or do not have evidence of immunity to measles, mumps and rubella should also get two doses of the MMR vaccine.
  • It is recommended that people born in 1970 or later (1957 for health care workers) get 2 doses of the vaccine. This is especially important for travellers.
  • People born before 1970 (1957 for health care workers) are generally assumed to have acquired immunity to measles from natural infection. Therefore the MMR vaccine is not routinely recommended for these people.


  • Measles travel health notices are currently posted for many countries throughout the world. It's important to make sure that you and your loved ones are protected against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases before travelling.
  • The MMR vaccine is recommended for infants 6 – 11 months of age if they will be travelling to countries where there is measles disease. These children will need 2 more doses of the vaccine, at 12 months and 4 to 6 years of age.
  • Children younger than 4 years of age and travelling overseas to an area with high rates of measles, should get an early second dose before travelling. This dose can be given as early as 4 weeks after the first dose.
  • Read more about travel vaccines.

What are the benefits of the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is the best way to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella, which are serious and sometimes fatal diseases. When you or your child get immunized, you help protect others as well.

What are the side effects?

Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get measles, mumps, or rubella.
Many people have no side effects from the vaccine. For those that do, common side effects may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Fever, headache, muscle soreness, nausea and a rash that looks like measles and swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck can occur about 7 to 12 days after getting the vaccine. Temporary joint pain may occur in teenage and adult women.
Rarely, more serious reactions can include seizures caused by fever (about 1 child in 3,000), a temporary drop in the blood cells that help prevent bleeding (about 1 person in 30,000), and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain (about 1 person in 1 million). The possibility of getting encephalitis from measles is about 1 in 1,000 which is much higher than from the vaccine.
It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility of anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips. The chance of true anaphylaxis is about 1 in 1 million vaccine doses. Should this reaction occur, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number. Learn more about anaphylaxis on our vaccine side effects page.
It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.

Who should not get the MMR vaccine?

Speak with your health care provider if you or your child:
  • Have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of measles, mumps, or rubella vaccine, or any component of the vaccine including gelatin or neomycin.
  • Have an immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment.
  • Have had a drop in platelets, the blood cells that help prevent bleeding, after getting a previous dose of MMR vaccine without another cause being identified.
  • Have had a blood transfusion or received other blood products within the past 12 months.
  • Are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Women should avoid becoming pregnant for 1 month after getting the MMR vaccine.
There is no need to delay getting immunized because of a cold or other mild illness. However, if you have concerns speak with your health care provider.

Summary of measles-containing vaccine programs in BC:

  • 1969: Measles vaccine recommended for infants at 12 months of age, preschool, and susceptible school children.
  • 1981: One dose of MMR vaccine  provided for all children 12 months of age and older.
  • 1986: One dose of MMR vaccine catch-up program for all children from Kindergarten to grade 12.
  • 1996: A second dose of MMR vaccine introduced at 18 months as part of the routine schedule.
  • 1996: A measles, rubella (MR) vaccine provided to all children 19 months of age and older (toddlers, preschool children, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students) in a province-wide campaign. The second dose was for measles protection. Records for this MR vaccine campaign were provided to parents only and not retained by health units.
Without a record of immunization (or proof of immunity to a disease), a person is considered unvaccinated and unprotected and should generally be vaccinated (or revaccinated) to ensure protection. It is safe to repeat vaccines. 


About measles

  • Measles, also known as red measles, causes fever, rash, cold-like symptoms and red, inflamed eyes that can be sensitive to light.
  • Measles is very contagious and spreads easily. When an infected person coughs, or sneezes, the virus spreads through the air. The measles virus can survive in small droplets in the air for several hours. You can become infected when you breathe in this air or touch a surface contaminated with virus. The viruses can also spread through contact with an infected person’s saliva when sharing food, drinks, cigarettes or by kissing.
  • It can lead to infections of the ear or lungs (pneumonia).
  • More serious complications, occurring in 1 person in 1,000, include encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. This can lead to seizures, deafness, or permanent brain damage.
  • About one person in 3,000 with measles can die from complications.

Did you know?

Measles is highly contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been. 


Learn more