FAQ3 - Questions about the impact of MMR vaccination
What is the impact of MMR vaccination around the world?
Countries such as Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Australia all have an MMR vaccination program. Where there is an MMR vaccination program with about 95% of children vaccinated, serious illness and deaths from measles, for example, are rare.
In countries that have previously lacked wide reaching measles vaccination programs such as China and the Philippines, large epidemics have been reported. In 2003, China reported that 71,879 people had measles with 83 deaths from the disease. During the same period in the Philippines, 10,501 people were reported to have measles with 288 deaths.15
What is the impact of MMR vaccination in Australia?
When an outbreak occurs, it is often the unvaccinated who get the disease.15 It is possible for as many as 90 in every 100 unvaccinated people to develop measles, mumps or rubella if they are exposed to an infected person.2 Infected people can be contagious to others before the symptoms of the illness start. Occasionally, those who get the vaccine will still catch measles. (See "How effective is the MMR vaccine?")
Measles control through MMR vaccination has made a large impact on the disease in recent years. In Australia between 1993 and 1998, there were 12,404 reports of measles with 2223 people hospitalised and seven deaths (three were children).16 Between 2002 and 2005, 94 people were hospitalised because of measles. Twenty of the hospitalised had complications (including meningitis, pneumonia, ear infection and other complications). Those aged 0–4 years had the highest rates of hospitalisation.17
Most measles cases have been prevented in Australia over the last 10 years since the MMR vaccination was made available for all children at 12 months of age (see figure below). Outbreaks occur but these are mostly among unvaccinated people visiting or returning from countries with endemic measles.
If these diseases are no longer very common in Australia, why is MMR vaccination still recommended?
Even though these diseases are less common in Australia now, they are still common in many countries, particularly in less developed countries. People travelling overseas are at risk if they are not vaccinated. Returning travellers can also bring measles, mumps or rubella back to Australia causing local outbreaks.
Measles, mumps and rubella can spread very quickly. If fewer Australian children are vaccinated, these diseases will become common again, causing more illness and deaths. For measles, this can happen if fewer than 95% of children in an area are vaccinated.2