Immunisation

Deciding to give my child MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)

The UK Immunisation Schedule recommends that children be given two doses of the MMR vaccine; the first at 12 months of age and the second at 3-5 years of age. For more information on why MMR is recommended see ‘What is immunisation?’ and ‘Why do we immunise?’.

Immunisation of children is not compulsory in the UK, as it is in some other countries, so parents we interviewed chose whether or not to have their child immunised. The vast majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.

It is absolutely right and normal that parents are concerned about the optimal health of their children and it is important that parents seek reliable scientific evidence on which to base their decisions and there is now a mass of this information available (see Resources & Information section).  

Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and about the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. In addition to their GP, health visitor or practice nurse, there is also an immunisation advisor in each local health protection unit, whom parents can talk to about their child's immunisations.

Although the weight of scientific evidence shows that MMR is safe, some parents continue to have initial concerns about the risk to their child and making the decision whether or not to give their child MMR is a difficult one. 

However, the majority of parents do decide to give their child MMR. Here, parents explain their reasons for their decision.

They didn't believe there was a strong link between MMR and autism
Some parents, and in particular ones who had knowledge of the characteristics of autism through their work, or through friends or family who had an autistic child, had no problem deciding to go ahead with MMR because they didn't believe there was any link to autism. 

The research study by Wakefield et al (1998) was not strong research evidence and had suspicious motives
Some had learned through subsequent media coverage or personal researches via the internet that the Wakefield study (1998), which suggested a link between MMR, inflammatory bowel disease and autism wasn't strong enough evidence to warrant not giving their child MMR.   

They discovered that the research was based on a small sample of 12 children, that the findings were not conclusive, that the motives behind the research were suspect as there might have been a conflict of interest. They believed that the evidence in favour of MMR was more reliable. A couple of mothers who started gathering information when they were making their decision were amazed to find that so much fuss had been made over just one research study.

MMR has been used worldwide for many years
Some parents said that another factor that influenced their decision was that they had learnt that MMR had been used worldwide in many countries for many years without any significant problems. They had felt reassured that the same MMR vaccine used in the UK had been used in the USA since the early 1970s and of the millions of children given MMR, accounts of reported adverse reactions were rare.

Single vaccines had problems
Quite a few parents had investigated single vaccines in the process of making their decision. They had decided against having single vaccines because they had heard that there could be problems with them, for example, they were difficult to get hold of, were costly, were possibly less reliable than the MMR which was approved by the government, or there was a shortage of the mumps vaccine. In the light of some or all of these concerns they had opted for MMR. In addition, some parents also said that they chose MMR because they didn't want their child to have more injections than necessary and have a risk of reaction at each one.

They found an information source they trusted 
Many parents who gave their child MMR did so because they had found a source of information they trusted, generally either from a health professional, or from reading research papers, or from friends. A few mothers also said that they did not believe that the government would back an immunisation programme that might be unsafe (see 'Information for making decisions').

The risk of the diseases was greater than the risk of side effects from MMR
Other parents, after gathering information, decided that the risk from the diseases was greater than the risk of any of the possible side effects from MMR. (See 'Weighing up the risk'.)  Some parents felt that the risk of catching one of the diseases was far greater because there had been local outbreaks of mumps or measles or because there were known to be a lot of children in their neighbourhood who had not been immunised. Others decided to give their child MMR because their child was starting nursery and were likely to be more exposed to infectious diseases.

They felt a responsibility towards the community at large to stop infectious diseases returning.
Some chose to give their child MMR because they believed they had a public health responsibility to stop infectious diseases returning or to help to eradicate them. (See 'Parents' attitudes to childhood immunisation' and '‘Why do we immunise?) One mother said she gave her son MMR to protect herself from measles should she become pregnant again and to also protect other pregnant women.

What happens in life comes from God
One Bangladeshi mother and one Orthodox Jewish mother believed through their religious faith, that though they could not prevent any side effect their child might develop because whatever happened came from God, they could do something to prevent their child getting a disease by giving them MMR.

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Feelings now about the decision they made
Although many parents had felt very concerned before making the decision to give their child MMR, they said they were now happy with their decision and they personally believed it was the right decision for their child. Many said they felt relieved and reassured that their son or daughter was now protected from infectious diseases when any outbreaks occurred. 

A few parents who believed their child had a severe reaction to MMR, felt differently about the vaccine. (See 'Severe and disputed reactions to MMR' and 'Deciding not to give my child MMR'.)

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.

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