Measles is a serious disease that can make you very sick. It spreads easily through the air by sneezing or coughing; in fact it's about eight times more contagious than COVID-19. Getting immunised is the best way to protect you, your whānau and community from catching and spreading measles.

Click here to find a vaccination provider near you.

What is measles?

Measles is a viral illness that causes a skin rash, red eyes, runny nose, cough and fever. The virus spreads easily through the air by sneezing or coughing.

  • Measles is easily spread – just being in the same room as someone with measles can lead to infection if you are not immunised. One person with measles can pass on the disease to up to 18 other people who have not been immunised.
  • Measles can cause serious complications including diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). About 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital admission.
  • Measles infection can cause the immune system to forget how to properly protect you from other infections for up to three years (immune amnesia).
  • Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, early labour and low birth weight babies.
  • A person with measles is infectious from five days before and until five days after the rash appears (about 10 days in total). During this time, the infected person needs to stay away from other people (including whānau, school and work).

Who is at risk of getting measles?

Anyone who has not been vaccinated against measles or has not had measles before is at risk of being infected. Those most at risk of getting measles include:

  • Babies who are too young to be vaccinated
  • People travelling in countries/regions where there is a current measles outbreak
  • People born overseas in countries where appropriate vaccination is less likely

People who are at increased risk of severe complications from measles:

  • Anyone with a chronic illness or a weakened immune system
  • Children younger than five years of age

Who is immune?

Who is considered to be immune to measles?

  • If you have had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine (this will be recorded in your Well Child/Tamariki Ora or Plunket Book or with your GP).
  • If you have had measles previously.
  • If you were born before 1969 – measles was common at this time and circulating widely prior to the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1969.

Why is immunisation with the MMR vaccine so important?

The MMR vaccine helps protect you against three serious diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. In 2019, New Zealand had a measles outbreak and more than 2,000 people got measles. 700 had to go to hospital. Māori and Pacific peoples were particularly affected.

Measles is only a plane ride away as measles is still common in many countries. People can bring it into New Zealand without knowing. You can also be exposed by travelling to certain overseas countries.

Not sure if you’re already immunised against measles?

Lots of people didn’t get fully immunised when they were children, which puts them at risk of catching and spreading measles. Ask your doctor, parent or caregiver if you had two doses of the MMR vaccine as a child. If you don’t know, it is best to get immunised. It is safe to have an extra dose of the MMR vaccine.

MMR vaccine

What is in the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is made up of small amounts of the weakened forms of the measles, mumps and rubella germs. These trigger your immune system to make antibodies to fight the germs. The MMR vaccine has a few other ingredients to keep it stable. These ingredients are found in tiny amounts and are also found in common foods and drinks.

How does the MMR vaccine work?

The MMR vaccine works by helping your body to make antibodies that fight measles. When you've had the MMR vaccine, your immune system will fight the measles virus if you come into contact with it for real.

The MMR vaccine protects you and those around you from getting sick or spreading measles.

How is the MMR vaccine given?

The MMR vaccine is injected into a muscle in your thigh or upper arm. The MMR vaccine is FREE for all children from 12 months of age and adults born on/after 1 January 1969, who have not completed a two-dose course of MMR vaccine.

The MMR vaccine is part of the national childhood immunisation schedule for children, and is given at 12 months and 15 months of age.

How safe is the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine has an excellent safety record and has been used in New Zealand since 1990. The MMR vaccine is very effective. Just one dose gives you a 95% chance of being protected against measles, two doses increases this to 99%.

A small number of people who are fully immunised may still get sick. But they usually get a milder illness than people who haven’t been immunised.

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Most side effects are mild and do not last very long. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will talk about the possible side effects with you at the time of immunisation.

Some people can get a mild response between five and 12 days after immunisation, like a mild fever, a rash or swollen glands.

Other mild reactions that can occur include:

  • Headache
  • A slight fever (feeling hot)
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Fainting or feeling faint (eating beforehand helps with this)
  • Generally feeling a bit unwell

The chance of having a serious side effect from the MMR vaccine is extremely rare and would happen within 20 minutes of being immunised. This is why you will be asked to stay for 20 minutes after you have the MMR vaccine. If a severe allergic reaction occurs, the vaccinator will be able to treat this effectively.

Who can’t be immunised with the MMR vaccine?

There are very few people who can not be immunised. Talk with your health professional if:

  • You've had a serious reaction to a vaccine in the past
  • You are being treated for cancer or a serious illness
  • You have had a blood transfusion in the last year
  • You are pregnant
  • You have had another live vaccine within the past four weeks
  • You have a severe weakness of your immune system.

Where can I get a free MMR vaccine?

  • Your general practice (GP)
  • Participating community pharmacies (no appointment needed) - click here to find one near you
  • Pop-up community vaccination clinics – click here for a list of scheduled pop-up community clinics.
  • Keep an eye on Te Whatu Ora - Taranaki, WITT, and local Māori health providers' social media pages for their community clinics.
  • Taranaki businesses via internal occupational health staff (employees only).

Where can I go for more information?

Last reviewed: Monday, July 24, 2023

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