Measles is a serious disease that used to be very common in the United States. But thanks to the measles vaccine, the number of measles cases in Americans has dropped by over 99%.
There are 2 vaccines that can prevent measles:
- The MMR vaccine protects children and adults from measles, mumps, and rubella
- The MMRV vaccine protects children from measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the measles vaccine important?
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases there is. If 1 person has it, 9 out of 10 people close to that person who aren’t immune (protected) will also get measles. And it can be dangerous — serious cases of measles can lead to brain damage and even death.
In recent years, measles outbreaks have increased in the United States and around the world in places like Europe, Africa, and South America. Outbreaks typically happen in areas where groups of people don't get vaccinated. Since measles is still common in other countries, people can get the disease when they travel — and spread it to people who aren’t vaccinated when they come home.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles. And when enough people get vaccinated against measles, the entire community is less likely to get it. So when you and your family get vaccinated, you help keep yourselves and your community healthy.
Learn more about how vaccines help protect your whole community.
What is measles?
Measles is a disease caused by a virus. Symptoms of measles include:
- Runny nose
- Mild pink eye (redness or swelling of the eyes)
Sometimes, measles can lead to:
- Ear infections
- Diarrhea (watery poop)
- Pneumonia (lung infection)
- Inflammation of the brain
Measles spreads through the air — like when someone who has it coughs or sneezes. The virus can live for up to 2 hours in the air. Learn more about measles.
Who needs to get the measles vaccine?
All children need to get the measles vaccine — and some adults may need it, too.
Children ages 1 through 6 years need to get the measles vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.
Children need 2 doses of the vaccine at the following ages:
- 12 through 15 months for the first dose
- 4 through 6 years for the second dose (or sooner as long as it’s 28 days after the first dose)
Children younger than 12 months need 1 dose of the measles vaccine if they’re traveling outside the United States. Learn more about measles and travel.
Children ages 1 through 12 years can get the MMRV vaccine, which is a combination vaccine. The MMRV vaccine protects against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. Your child’s doctor can recommend the vaccine that’s right for your child.
If you didn’t get the measles vaccine as child, you may need to get it as an adult. In general, everyone age 18 and older born after 1956 who has not had measles needs at least 1 dose of the measles vaccine. Healthcare professionals who have not had measles need 2 doses of the measles vaccine.
Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from measles.
Who should not get the measles vaccine?
You should not get the measles vaccine if you:
- Have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a dose of the measles vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (like neomycin, an antibiotic sometimes used in vaccines)
- Are pregnant
Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Have tuberculosis
- Have cancer
- Are taking medicines that can affect your immune system
- Have ever had a low platelet count (a blood disorder)
- Have had another vaccine in the past month
- Have recently had a blood transfusion or were given other blood products, like plasma
If you’re sick, you may need to wait until you’re feeling better to get the measles vaccine.
What are the side effects of the measles vaccine?
Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:
- A mild rash
- Swollen glands in the cheeks or neck
Less common side effects of the measles vaccine include:
- Pain or stiffness in the joints, usually in women (up to 1 person out of 4)
- Seizures (sudden, unusual movements or behavior) from having a high fever (about 1 out of every 3,000 doses)
- Temporary (short-term) low platelet count (about 1 out of every 30,000 doses)
Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that the measles vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting the measles vaccine is much safer than getting measles. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
Where can I get more information about the measles vaccine?
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against measles:
- MMR vaccine — protects against measles, mumps, and rubella
- MMRV vaccine — protects against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox (for children)