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.
She had taught children with autism and believed that the MMR vaccine had nothing to do with autism.
I think it, well, several factors really. One, I knew I wanted them to be immunised. It was a case of, 'How? Would, would it be a split vaccine or would it be the triple vaccine?' So I, you know, there was always the, there was never a decision to make whether she was going to have them or not. And then secondly, I spoke to GP, my GP, the nurse, you know, who were, well, health professionals and again they gave me the relevant literature. I didn't do any extra research on the Internet or anything like that; I just took the NHS leaflets. But I think as far as I was concerned, having taught children with autism and that was obviously the main fear, and I had been on professional courses as part of my job. I already had some insight into autism and the causes of autism and I was clear in my mind that the vaccine had nothing to do with it. And that's why I prompted, I, it prompted me to go for the triple vaccine.
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.
The scientific basis of the research study was dubious and had conflicts of interest.
There is no convincing evidence to suggest that MMR is not safe.
Again, I think with MMR, just because of all the publicity I was bit more apprehensive about that. But even then I didn't really do much reading because, I think because I'd come from a research background and I know there's actually no that, you know, there are contradictory studies on everything and you've got to take the sort of weight of evidence and the weight of evidence is towards it being safe. And so there's this one very highly publicised study that was claiming these links but, but everything else suggested that it was absolutely fine. And for me the risk of a link with, of him contracting autism was so much smaller than him contracting mumps and him suffering sort of negative impact from that. So it wasn't too difficult a decision.
I think I'm quite lucky at having access to research papers and if I read something in a sort of much more, I don't know, reliable, if that's fair, source, then I would be more worried. But even then studies are funded but, I mean, that's what, that's what swung it for me about the MMR was that this guy had a, a serious conflict of interest. You know, he was representing the parents of children with autism and you can see how it happens. Somebody stakes their career on a certain, making a certain point and they get a certain reputation and they can't really back down. So, I think knowing that, knowing that background, that piece of information in itself was enough for me to really dismiss, I think [laughs]. Although I mean it's funny because you have a rational head and then you have your sort of mother head on and so it's not that I got him immunised and didn't worry about it. It was still, I was still looking for signs of [laughs] withdrawing from the world and not wanting affection enough to, which is ridiculous, I knew it was ridiculous but you still sort of do that, you still kind of watch afterward to see if, if he's changed. But there was absolutely no sign of that.
She was amazed that 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.
Learning that MMR had been used in America and worldwide helped her to reach a decision.
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.
Single vaccine clinics were difficult to access and difficult to know which clinics were...
But, to be honest, going to a clinic seemed a bit seedy in the end. You know, it seemed to be like putting these things into my child and, and we had to go through the back door to get it. And it, I didn't feel like I wanted to do that. So I suppose the chat to the friend in America was, kind of was my green light. We were moving more towards the MMR because the clinics were so difficult to, not just to access, but then it was no problem to pay the money, but it just seemed like a ludicrous amount of money for individual injections. And they seemed to be cashing in on my concerns.
There was evidence that single vaccines especially as offered by private clinics might not be a...
Because there's always people who are willing to exploit it in that degree. And equally there were articles about how, you know, having single jabs didn't necessarily provide the protection that the children needed, and, you know, there were, it wasn't conclusive that, that was going to be a kind of good way forward. And I didn't, I, it sort of wasn't, in a way wasn't really the issue for me. The issue was whether it was safe or not safe. And I just wanted to, you know, sort of make sure that I was fully reassured that I felt that it was statistically going to be, you know, overwhelmingly okay at the end of it, although you can never rule anything out altogether. But I mean all of life and you know, health is, is, you know, kind of best-fit scenario. So you just have to kind of take what you can with it.
Single vaccines had their own problems so she decided to give her son MMR.
And why did you consider, consider the single vaccines?
Because I thought if it was an easy option between, if it was a choice of single or the MMR, and there was always this doubt that maybe the MMR could cause autism and other things, then I would go for the singles. But then when it turned out the singles had their issues, then I preferred the MMR. If the singles had just been very, very straightforward and very, go bang, bang, bang, there's your immunisations, every three months, he'll be done, you know. I mean, yes, 80, '80 a pop, you know, and the travel from my, you know, the, outside London to a clinic. But, no, they started having their own issues and then, so when I weighed it up the MMR just seemed the, the most sensible.
She decided against single vaccines because it would take longer for her sons to acquire immunity...
She considered single vaccines but was glad she hadn't chosen them when there was a measles...
The safety of the single vaccines worried her so she decided to have MMR.
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').
She trusted her GP who was also a friend.
And we went to see our own doctor who, but, you know, he, who persuaded us and staked his career on the fact that this MMR wouldn't harm our little girl. And he said he'd even give her the injection himself, just to prove how confident he was in it. And he hasn't given an injection to a child for a long time. Anyway he gave her, gave it to her there and then before we could change our minds or have time to think about it. And we were just, in just such a state. I couldn't tell you how worried we were.
And these health professionals, I'm trying not to say the names, they were sort of, they've got no reason to say otherwise. If they for one minute thought that there would be a problem with MMR it's more than their careers are worth to push me to give it to my little girl. And in the end that's where I thought, 'Well' because my doctor who is a family friend and, as well, I just knew he wouldn't, he would not have staked his career on it. And, you know, I mean he just said, 'Come on, give her here, I'm going to do it now'. And, and he did it. And it was, and it was talking to them really and realising that they wouldn't say those things if they didn't truly believe them, you know.
So you trusted your doctor?
Oh, yes, yes, I trust him with anything. And I hadn't actually spoken to him himself, we went over another issue with her. And it was, I thought, 'Oh, I should have spoken to him long since really' because he was that last bit of reassurance that we needed, you know. And it was a good thing, it was, you know, the best thing we did.
She trusted a specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
And to be honest I think everything changed when I then phoned up Great Ormond Street and spoke to someone on the front desk and said what my concerns were and is there a paediatrician or somebody there that I could speak to who might have some comments based on facts, that, who could talk to me. And they, that's when I was directed through to the lady there who helped. And I think that was the big turning point for me in that we had a long conversation on the telephone I think then a week later I phoned her back and we had another long conversation and I also had her email address. So every time something just popped into my mind I was emailing her and she was emailing back and also our friends next door, their one of their god-parents is a paediatrician in Ireland and she was saying that his comment was very much that I would go ahead and have, I would, you know, their little girl has the MMR.
So, I think it was having heard that comment from her and then also the fact that this other lady was giving all of this, what seemed like very grounded advice based in, on fact.
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.
Where they lived a lot of parents didn't immunise, so they decided in favour of MMR because of...
Did you ever consider single vaccines for the MMR?
Not really, only because I hadn't, you know, read or heard anything that, that made it sound like, you know, that was particularly beneficial thing to do. And it wasn't offered routinely. I mean, I suppose that I felt happy from what I'd heard and seen about the MMR that, you know, in the combined jab that, you know, that I was happy enough for my daughter to have it. So, I didn't really look into any alternatives.
Believes the risk of the diseases far outweighs the risk from the MMR vaccine.
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.
Believed that what will be, will be.
I think it's really important to have all the immunisations because it's protecting your child from other illnesses. Because I mean I couldn't forgive myself if anything was to happen, and as a parent I would want to protect my baby as well as I can. And so there, there are vaccinations available, so that's why I took the opportunity to, for my child to be immunised.
And did you discuss it with anybody? Apart from the leaflets that you got from your GP and here?
Well, there was a lot of people saying about the MMR, like friends and family saying that autism and, but, and then you get leaflets as well and it says it's not really linked to it. But it's just, you just have to make that decision as a parent. Because at the end of the day what happens is, what's going to happen is, is going to happen. You can't really stop anything. But if I can, you know, help my baby to be more protected, then I'll do my best. So I'll know I tried.
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.
Feels very glad she had given her daughters MMR and feels relieved that her children are...
She no longer has to worry about her daughter catching measles, mumps or rubella when she goes to...
Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.