Mumps and the Vaccine that Safeguards Against the Disease.

By Bryan Cooper, Tulalip Health Clinic


The Tulalip Tribes values the health of its citizens and strives to educate all members about disease prevention. Recently, there have been some questions and concerns regarding Mumps and the vaccine that safeguards against the disease.

Mumps cases, although rare, are reported each year in the State of Washington.  In 2014, 9 cases were reported. Last year recorded just 7 cases. To date, this year has only 3 official cases of Mumps.  By comparison, in 1980 there were 166 cases and 1985 there were 165, so the numbers have dramatically dropped.

Who should get vaccinated? 

Generally, anyone 18 to 60 years of age should get at least one dose of mumps-containing vaccine; however, most people received MMR vaccine as children as it is a school requirement.  Anyone who can show that they have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), or that they have had these diseases in the past, do not need MMR vaccine.

That said, some people should either not get MMR vaccine or should wait.

  • Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of MMR vaccine, should not get the vaccine. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies.
  • Anyone who had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of MMR or MMRV vaccine should not get another dose.
  • Some people who are sick at the time the shot is scheduled may be advised to wait until they recover before getting MMR vaccine.
  • Pregnant women should not get MMR vaccine. Pregnant women who need the vaccine should wait until after giving birth. Women should then avoid getting pregnant for 4 weeks after vaccination with MMR vaccine.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. However, the risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.  Certainly, getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.

Most people who get MMR vaccine do not have any serious problems with it, but here is the official list of possible adverse effects:

Mild problems

  • Fever (up to 1 person out of 6)
  • Mild rash (about 1 person out of 20)
  • Swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck (about 1 person out of 75)

If these problems occur, it is usually within 6-14 days after the shot. They occur less often after the second dose.

Moderate problems

  • Seizure (jerking or staring) caused by fever (about 1 out of 3,000 doses)
  • Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, mostly in teenage or adult women (up to 1 out of 4)
  • Temporary low platelet count, which can cause a bleeding disorder (about 1 out of 30,000 doses)

Severe problems (very rare)  

  • Serious allergic reaction (less than 1 out of a 1,000,000 doses)

Several other severe problems have been reported after a child gets MMR vaccine, including:

  • Deafness
  • Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness
  • Permanent brain damage

Frankly, these are so rare that it is hard to tell whether the vaccine causes them.

Globalization has exposed many cultures to diseases they would not otherwise be exposed to.  Many of the diseases such as syphilis, smallpox, measles, mumps, and bubonic plague were of European origin; Native Americans at the time exhibited little immunity, and the traditional indigenous medical treatments such as sweatlodges unwittingly worsened smallpox mortality rates.  Over time, immune responses increased and knowledge of effective treatments and care to the “new” disease were developed, and mortality rates improved.

Life is full of risks; healthy choices and wisdom of our elders should guide our way.  Vaccines have and will continue to save countless lives.  As we uncover new diseases, we, as a global people, can more effectively address treatments and cures much better then if everyone was isolated.  Sometimes, quarantine is the only option to halt progression of a disease, but most often, standard precautions like frequent hand washing and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough keep us healthy.