Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Varicella (MMR-Var) vaccine

This vaccine protects against four diseases caused by viruses that can make people very sick and can even be deadly. These diseases are measles, mumps, rebella and varicella. 

Prior to the introduction of vaccines, these were common childhood diseases. It is much safer for your child to get this vaccine than it is for them to get measles, mumps, rubella or varicella disease.

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About measles, mumps, rubella and varicella

Measles

Measles causes a rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. For every 1000 people who get sick with measles, one person will get inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) that can lead to convulsions, deafness or mental disability. In developed countries like Canada, for every 1000 people who get measles, one or two people will die. Measles also causes serious illness in adults and increases the risk of miscarriage and premature delivery in pregnant women.

Mumps

Mumps causes fever, headache and swollen glands around the jaw. In rare cases a child’s brain becomes severely inflamed (encephalitis). Mumps can also cause deafness. In men, mumps can cause painful and swollen testicles that may lead to sterility in rare cases. In women, mumps can cause infected and painful ovaries.

Rubella

Rubella, also called German measles, causes a slight fever, sore throat, rash and swelling of the neck glands that lasts about three days. Some people may have painful and swollen joints. In very rare cases rubella may cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and/or a bleeding disorder. Rubella can be very dangerous for pregnant women. When a woman gets rubella in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, she may have a miscarriage or have a baby born with a serious disability.

Varicella (chickenpox)

Varicella, also known as chickenpox, causes an itchy rash with fluid filled blisters. Most people who get varicella recover with no lasting effects. However, varicella can be very serious and even life threatening to newborn babies, adults, and those who have weakened immune systems. Varicella can cause permanent skin scars and can lead to pneumonia or problems with the brain, liver or heart.

About this vaccine

Who should receive this vaccine?

In Alberta, children are routinely given 2 doses of this vaccine; dose 1 at 12 months of age, and dose 2 at 4–6 years of age (preschool). Children who've had varicella disease before 12 months of age should still be immunized.

Why a second dose of vaccine?

The Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization, as well as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Committee on Immunization Practices recommend two doses of a varicella-containing immunization for children.

The first introduction of a varicella immunization was in 2001, and was directed towards children at 12 months of age. Since that time, it has become apparent through continued research that children would benefit from a second dose of the vaccine due to declining immunity to the first dose.

What do I do if there is a reaction to this vaccine?

It is common to have redness, swelling and soreness in the area where the needle was given for one or two days. Between 4 and 12 days after getting the vaccine, some children may have a slight fever, a red blotchy rash like measles, and/or small blisters like varicella.

  • For pain or swelling where the needle was given, apply a cool moist towel to the area for about 15 minutes. Repeat as needed.
  • Use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol® or Tempra®) as directed on the bottle if your child has pain or a fever (temperature over 38 C or 100.4 F).

NOTE: Aspirin® (ASA) is not recommended for persons under 18 years of age because of the increased risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Serious reactions are rare. As with any immunization, unexpected or unusual reactions can occur. If your child has an unusual reaction, speak with your local public health nurse or call Health Link Alberta.

Talk to a public health nurse before getting this vaccine if your child:

  • Has any severe allergies.
  • Is sick with something more serious than a cold or a fever.
  • Has a weakened immune system.
  • Has been given another live vaccine within the last three months.
  • Has been given immune globulin or other blood products in the past year.
  • Has had thrombocytopenia (low platelet count in the blood) in the past.

More information

 For health advice and information 24 hours a day, call Health Link Alberta at:

  • 403-943-5465 in Calgary
  • 780-408-5465 in Edmonton
  • 1-866-408-5465 toll-free in Alberta