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Measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (MMR-Var) vaccine


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Get protected, get immunized.

  • Vaccines make your immune system stronger. They build antibodies to help prevent diseases.
  • Immunization is safe. It's much safer to get immunized than to get these diseases.

What is the MMR-Var vaccine?

The MMR-Var vaccine protects against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox).

What is measles?

Measles is a virus that spreads easily through the air when someone who has measles coughs or sneezes. It can cause:

  • a high fever
  • a cough
  • a runny nose
  • red eyes
  • a blotchy, red rash

Measles can be dangerous because:

  • 1 in 10 people with measles will get middle ear or lung infections
  • 1 in 1,000 people with measles will get encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which can lead to seizures, deafness, or brain damage
  • 1 to 2 of every 1,000 people with measles could die

What is mumps?

Mumps is a virus that spreads by coughing, sneezing, or having contact with saliva (such as kissing or sharing toys). You can have no symptoms but still spread mumps. It can cause:

  • a fever
  • a headache
  • swelling of the glands around your jaw
  • swelling of the testicles or ovaries
  • deafness
  • encephalitis

What is rubella?

Rubella is a virus that spreads by coughing or sneezing. It’s usually mild. It can cause:

  • a fever
  • a sore throat
  • swollen neck glands
  • a rash with red, raised bumps
  • painful, swollen joints
  • encephalitis
  • a bleeding disorder

If you get rubella while you are pregnant, it can cause loss of a baby during pregnancy (a miscarriage or stillbirth​) or the baby may be born with disabilities.

What is varicella (chickenpox)?

Chickenpox is a virus that can cause a fever and an itchy rash that looks like small water-filled blisters. It spreads easily through the air by coughing, sneezing, or touching open blisters.

It’s usually mild, but can be more serious in newborns, adults, and people with weak immune systems. Up to 1 in 10 people who get chickenpox can have:

  • skin infections
  • pneumonia (a type of lung infection)
  • blood infections
  • other deadly infections

Who should get the MMR-Var vaccine?

Children can get this vaccine starting at age 12 months up to and including 12 years. You do not get this vaccine if you are older than 12 years.​

How many doses do I need?

Children need 2 doses. As of January 1, 2021, children can get their first dose at age 12 months and their second dose at age 18 months.

If your child didn’t get an MMR-Var vaccine at age 18 months, they can get it at age 4 years.

Are there other vaccines that protect against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella?

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. The VZ vaccine protects against chickenpox.

How well does the vaccine work?

After 2 doses, protection is about:

  • 100% for measles
  • 76% to 95% for mumps
  • 95% for rubella
  • 98% for varicella

Where can I get the MMR-Var vaccine?

You can get the vaccine at a public health office in your area.

Are there side effects from the MMR-Var vaccine?

There can be side effects from the MMR-Var vaccine. They tend to be mild and go away in a few days, but side effects can happen up to 6 weeks after getting this vaccine. They may include:

  • redness, swelling, bruising, rash, or feeling sore where you had the needle
  • getting upset easily
  • a fever
  • vomiting (throwing up) or loose stool (diarrhea)
  • a measles-like rash (a blotchy, red rash), rubella-like rash (rash with red, raised bumps), or chickenpox-like rash (rash with water-filled blisters)

It’s important to stay at the clinic for 15 minutes after your vaccine. Some people may have a rare but serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If anaphylaxis happens, you will get medicine to treat the symptoms.

It’s rare to have a serious side effect after a vaccine. Call Health Link at 811 to report any serious or unusual side effects.

How can I manage side effects?

  • To help with soreness and swelling, put a cool, wet cloth over the area where you had the needle.
  • There is medicine to help with a fever or pain. Check with your child's doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure what medicine or dose to give. Follow the directions on the package.
  • Children under the age of 18 years should not take aspirin (unless your doctor has told you to take it) because it can cause serious health problems if taken within 6 weeks of a vaccine.
  • If your child gets a rash that looks like chickenpox, keep it covered. If you can’t cover your child's rash, keep them away from anyone who is pregnant, newborn babies, and people with weak immune systems. If your child has more than 50 spots, call Health Link at 811.
  • Some people with health problems, such as a weak immune system, must call their doctor if they get a fever. If you’ve been told to do this, call your child's doctor even if you think the fever is from the vaccine.

Who should not get the MMR-Var vaccine?

Your child may not be able to get this vaccine if they:

  • have an allergy to any part of the vaccine
  • had a severe (serious) or unusual side effect after this vaccine or one like it
  • have a weak immune system (because of medicine they take or a health problem)
  • have a family history of a weak immune system
  • had a blood product in the past 11 months
  • had another live vaccine in the past 3 months
  • have seizures or a family history of seizures
  • had an organ or stem cell transplant
  • ​are pregnant

Check with your child's doctor or a public health nurse before they get the vaccine.​

Your child can still get the vaccine if they have a mild illness such as a cold or fever.

My child is afraid of needles. How can I prepare my child for their immunization?​

​Many children are afraid of needles. You can do many things before, during, and after immunization to help them​​ be more comfortable. Visit Commitment to Comfort for tips to make immunization a better experience.

More information about immunization

Current as of: July 4, 2022

Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services