Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
Aotearoa New Zealand is at very high risk of a measles outbreak. There’s a risk of getting measles if you have not had 2 vaccinations, or have not already had measles.
The measles (MMR) vaccine is free for all children in NZ, and all adults over the age of 18 who are eligible for free NZ healthcare.
About measles and the vaccine
We know that measles is actually really really contagious.
If one person is infected, you can actually spread it to around 15 to 18 people and it's not a nice disease to have it can make you feel really sick and awful.
Quite often people can end up in hospital because they're so sick and unwell from the infection.
There is no real good treatment to be honest, so the best thing that you
can do is actually get vaccinated so you get your body ready to fight off the infection.
If you're all protected, so if I'm vaccinated, every one of my family is vaccinated and someone comes to the house and they've got measles or mumps they actually don't pass it on to us, because the vaccine has actually helped protect us from actually getting the measles, or if we do get it we fight off so well that we don't spread it around we don't give it to other people.
How does the measles vaccine work? What are the side effects?
The vaccine which protects us against measles comes in a combination it's called the MMR.
So measles, mumps, rubella so you actually get protected against 3 different diseases at the same time, which is great news.
MMR vaccine is supposed to stimulate your body to be able to fight off infection if it sees the disease in real-time and so that potentially means that you can have some of those side effects that occur when you are vaccinated.
Getting a temperature that you may actually get a rash afterwards for the vaccine that's actually quite common.
Some people might find their glands actually go up after having the vaccine and some people they can have a little bit of an achy body.
For some people the symptoms may occur in the first few hours, for others it can occur up to a week or two weeks later, but actually they stay well with it, so despite having some mild side effects they actually stay very well.
What should I do if I'm not sure if I have had a measles vaccine?
So if you're not sure if you're vaccinated or not then just talk to your GP or GP nurse, they'll be able to look it up on their system.
Sometimes you may have had your childhood imms book. We can have a look through there and see if you've had the full vaccinations because you only need 2 doses to be fully vaccinated.
But even if we're not sure, if we can't find the records or we think you might be partially vaccinated. It actually does you no harm to have an extra vaccination.
What the MMR vaccine protects you from
The MMR vaccine protects against 3 viral infections – measles, mumps and rubella.
Of all diseases, measles is one of the most dangerous and contagious. It’s so infectious that, if you’re not vaccinated and come into contact with someone who has measles, you’re very likely to catch it and pass it on to others.
Measles spreads through coughing and sneezing. It can cause a rash, ear infection, diarrhoea, and seizures caused by fever.
In 1 in every 1,000 cases, it causes inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Some people who develop encephalitis die, while 1 in 3 are left with permanent brain damage.
Measles can also lead to pneumonia, which is the main cause of death from measles.
If you get measles while you’re pregnant it can make you very sick and can harm your baby.
Measles is now the third most common vaccine-preventable cause of death among children throughout the world.
During New Zealand’s last measles outbreak in 2019, 40% of children who caught measles were admitted to hospital.
New Zealand is at high risk of a measles outbreak
This year we’ve already had cases of measles reach our shores.
Not enough people in New Zealand are immunised against measles, which means it could just take a single case of measles to start an outbreak.
We need at least 95% of people living in New Zealand to be immunised to prevent an outbreak of measles. Importantly, this would also protect babies too young to be vaccinated, and those who are severely immunocompromised.
On average, 1 dose is 95% effective against measles, and 2 doses is more than 99% effective against measles.
When it’s given and catching up
The MMR vaccine is offered to tamariki on the schedule at 12 months and 15 months, but an additional early dose may be available if there is an outbreak of measles.
For those who missed out on their MMR immunisations, it’s free for everyone aged 18 years old and under – it does not matter what your visa or citizenship status is. This includes visitors to Aotearoa New Zealand.
For people over 18 years old, the MMR vaccine is free if you’re a resident, or eligible for free healthcare in New Zealand.
Pēpi (babies) 6 to 11 months
Tamariki 12 months and 15 months old
Adults born between 1989 and 2004
Adults who lived in New Zealand before 1969
If you’re immunocompromised
If you’re pregnant
If you’re travelling
Protect your tamariki from measles – it can be very dangerous. Measles spreads faster than almost any other disease.
Measles can cause:
- high fever
- runny nose
- sore red eyes
- a rash starting on the head and moving down the body.
Tamariki can get so sick that they need to go to hospital. Some children can die from measles.
Immunisation rates are low for all tamariki in Aotearoa. They are very low in Māori and Pasifika babies and children.
This means there is a real risk of measles spreading widely and affecting Māori and Pasifika tamariki the most.
Now's the time to protect tamariki. 2 doses of the measles vaccine gives the best protection.
If you're not sure whether your child has had measles immunisation, check with your Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse or your GP practice.
If you still don't know, it's safe for your child to get 2 doses again.
Measles immunisation is free from GP practices and Māori and Pacific immunisation providers.
How to book an MMR vaccine
Ages 13 and over
Bookings for people over 13 years old can be made:
- online through Book My Vaccine, or
- over the phone by calling 0800 28 29 26 – 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week.
Ages 12 and under
Bookings for children under 13 need to be made with your usual doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider.
Tamariki over 3 years old can get an MMR vaccine at lots of pharmacies. You can search for one near you on Healthpoint.
Some sites offer group appointments for immunisations. Contact your doctor, nurse, healthcare provider, or pharmacy to see if your whānau can have a group appointment so you can all get vaccinated together.
Which vaccine is used
The vaccine we use in New Zealand is Priorix. This vaccine which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. 2 doses, at least a month apart, are needed for best protection.
It is not possible to separate these diseases out. For example, there is no ‘measles only’ vaccine available in New Zealand.
Priorix is a live vaccine. Live vaccines contain bacteria or viruses that have been weakened so that they cannot cause disease. This small amount of virus or bacteria stimulates an immune response.
Side effects and reactions
Like most medicines, vaccines can sometimes cause reactions. These are usually mild, and not everyone will get them.
Mild reactions are normal and shows that your immune system is responding to the vaccine.
If you’re going to have any reactions, they normally happen in the first few days after getting vaccinated. The vaccine itself is gone from your body within a few hours or days.
The most common reaction to an immunisation includes:
- a slight fever
- pain or swelling where the needle went in.
Other common reactions of the MMR vaccine include:
- mild rash (between 6 and 12 days after immunisation)
- high fever (over 39°C – between 6 and 12 days after immunisation)
- swollen glands in the cheeks, neck, or under the jaw
- temporary joint pain (2 to 4 weeks after immunisation).
A very rare side effect is bruise-like spots that appear 15 days to 6 weeks after immunisation. This is mild, and usually goes away within 6 months.
Serious side effects are rare. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116.
Call 111 if you’re worried you, or your child, is having a serious reaction.
Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 1 million people will experience this.
Your vaccinator is well-trained and knows what to look for and can treat an allergic reaction quickly if it happens.
Serious allergic reactions normally happen within the first few minutes of vaccination, this is why you need to wait for up to 20 minutes after immunisation.