A 3D graphic model of the measles virus. Credit: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

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How to protect yourself and others from measles

The vaccine that protects people from measles, mumps, and rubella is highly effective at preventing measles.

Who should get vaccinated?

Children should get the first dose of the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine when they’re about 12 to 15 months old. If a child younger than 12 months old is traveling to a country where measles is endemic, a doctor may recommend they receive the vaccine early.

The second dose of the vaccine, which is known as the MMR vaccine, is given around 4 to 6 years of age.

Older children and adults who haven’t been vaccinated or exposed to the virus should get vaccinated as well.

“It’s never too late to get caught up on the MMR vaccine,” said Annie Fedorowicz, an immunization coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health. “I think sometimes families think of the MMR vaccine as something you do in the young baby/toddler stage of life, so we’ve been reminding folks who may not have gotten the MMR during the pandemic or because of misinformation that it’s not too late.”

If you aren’t sure if you’ve been vaccinated or exposed to the virus, ask your health care provider for a test to see if you have antibodies to measles, mumps, and rubella, said Gwantwa Mwakalundwa, who teaches biology and virology at Metro State University.

What if I’m traveling?

It’s especially important to make sure you’re protected from measles before traveling to countries where the disease is endemic. 

Take this quiz from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to see if you should get the measles vaccine before you travel:

Who should not get the measles vaccine?

If you’re pregnant or immunocompromised, talk to your health care provider first. If your child has allergies, you’ll also want to talk to your health care provider first.

What if you’re not sure?

Find health care professionals you can trust in your community, Mwakalundwa advises.

“Go to them and talk to them and don’t talk to just one; talk to two or three and then make an informed decision,” she said.

Are there other options?

Another combination shot, the measles, mumps, rubella, varicella vaccine, protects against varicella, or chicken pox in addition to the original three diseases.

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Sheila Mulrooney Eldred writes stories about health equity for Sahan Journal. As a freelance journalist, she has written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, NPR, STAT News and...