Vaccines II: MMR, Varicella, and HPV

Let’s tackle the second part of our vaccinations series with some of the more common live-virus vaccines: MMR, Varicella, and HPV. Check out the CDC vaccine guides linked here.


  • Measles, mumps, and rubella - all are live attenuated strains of the virus

  • Should NOT be given during pregnancy

  • Immunity is about 97% against measles and rubella after 2 doses, and 88% against mumps after 2 dose

  • Given ideally before pregnancy to protect against congenital rubella

    • Otherwise, after pregnancy and not during

    • This is because during pregnancy, the adaptive immune system is not as robust as when one is not pregnant and higher risk of the live attenuated virus actually causing disease.

      • If an adult is not immune to MMR (and we screen for rubella during pregnancy), at least one dose should be given postpartum.

  • Ingredients

    • Chicken embryo cell culture - medium

    • Human diploid lung fibroblasts - medium

    • Vitamins, amino acids, sucrose, glutamate, human albumin, sorbitol, gelatin, sodium phosphate, sodium chloride

    • Fetal bovine serum - medium

    • Neomycin - antibiotic

  • Side effects

    • Can get rash, temperature, loss of appetite 2-3 days

    • Can get a VERY mild form of measles or mumps

    • Extremely rare: severe allergic reaction


  • Protects against chickenpox and shingles

    • 88-98% effective at preventing varicella after two doses, and 85% effective after 1 dose.

    • Ideally given before pregnancy to protect against chickenpox complications during pregnancy (ie. pneumonia) and congenital varicella syndrome or neonatal varicella.

    • Don’t give it during pregnancy.

  • Ingredients

    • Human diploid cells with DNA and protein

    • Sucrose, gelatin

    • Sodium chloride, monosodium-glutamate, sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, potassium chloride, EDTA

    • Neoomycin

    • Fetal bovine serum

  • Side effects

    • Common: sore arm, fever, mild rash, temporary pain and stiffness

    • Severe: (very uncommon) - severe infection, pneumonia


  • Gardasil 9 protects against human papilloma virus 16, 18 (causes 80% of cervical cancer cases), 6, 11 (90% of genital wart cases), and another 5 types (31,33,45, 52, 58) that can lead to cervical cancer.

    • 3 separate shots for people aged 15-45 - high efficacy, with close to 100% prevention of HPV virus

    • If 9-14, 2 shots are sufficient

    • Not currently recommended during pregnancy

      • Good time to give it: immediately pp in hospital (dose 1), then 6 weeks pp  

  • Ingredients

    • Vitamins, amino acids, mineral salts, carbohydrates

    • Amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate

    • Sodium chloride

    • Polysorbate 20

    • Neomycin, yeast protein

  • Side effects

    • Common: pain, redness, swelling of arm where shot was given

    • Less likely: fever, headache, feeling tired, nausea, muscle or joint pain.