Mumps outbreaks in recent years have given rise to questions about the effectiveness of the mumps vaccine. This study examined the epidemiological data from a recent mumps outbreak in Israel and from outbreaks in other countries with high vaccination coverage, and considered whether long-established vaccination policies designed to protect against mumps are in need of revision. Of over 5000 case patients in the Israeli outbreak, half of whom were in the Jerusalem health district, nearly 40% were aged ⩾15 years and, of those whose vaccination status was known, 78% had been fully vaccinated for their age – features similar to those in recent mumps outbreaks in Europe and North America. The epidemiological and laboratory evidence suggests that many previously vaccinated adolescents and young adults are now susceptible to mumps because their vaccine-based immunity has waned. Booster vaccination programmes for those at high risk of infection during mumps outbreaks – particularly those in congregate living environments – merit priority consideration.