In 1963, a vaccine for measles was made available in the United States. By the year 2000, measles had been wiped out in the United States. A dangerous disease that had once infected three million Americans every year—and killed an average of 500—was gone! But now, measles is back. Recent outbreaks have been reported from California to New York and are now as close as Massachusetts. Maine parents are beginning to worry that their kids will be exposed. It’s a sad way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the measles vaccine.
What happened? We let our guard down. The measles vaccine is so effective that people have forgotten how terrible measles really is. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not have the same access to the measles vaccine we do. Even today, 18 children around the world die every hour from measles. International travel, immigration and dropping vaccination rates keep us from totally eliminating measles in the United States. We must continue to vaccinate to protect ourselves and our families and keep measles from spreading.
Since 2004, 70% of new cases of measles occurred in people who have chosen not to get vaccinated. Today’s parents have never had measles or seen how awful the disease can be. Some parents were more frightened by myths about vaccines and autism than they were about measles. Medical professionals believe doctors and nurses who had never seen measles didn’t recognize new cases in time to keep outbreaks from spreading. During the February 2014 outbreak in New York, two of the infected children were babies too young to be vaccinated. The other two children had never been vaccinated.
Vax Maine Kids wants Maine parents to know just how important it is to vaccinate children against measles. Measles is very easily spread. It can take up to two weeks for someone infected with measles to show any signs or symptoms at all, but during those two weeks, they can still infect anyone they come in contact with. This makes measles very easy to spread. Today’s outbreaks are spreading through public spaces like hospital waiting rooms and airports. If you or your children are unvaccinated, your family is at risk of catching and spreading a very dangerous disease.
What is measles?
- Measles is also called rubeola.
- Measles is a very contagious disease that causes fever, cough, sore throat, sensitivity to light and a distinctive red rash all over the body.
- Measles don’t just look scary—they can kill, too.
- Infants and children are at the greatest risk from measles and the most likely to develop serious complications, like pneumonia or encephalitis (swelling of the brain), from the disease.
- For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die. As recently as 1991, five children in Philadelphia died during a measles outbreak.
How can Maine parents protect their family from measles?
Parents can protect themselves and their families by getting the safe and effective MMR vaccine (a combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella).
- Babies should get their first dose of the MMR vaccine between the ages of 12 and 15 months, and their second dose between the ages of four and six years old.
- The second dose of the MMR vaccine is important! Some children aren’t completely protected by just one dose.
- With two doses of the MMR vaccine, parents can stop worrying about measles—their children’s immunity will be almost 100%!
- If you have a child less than one year old and too young to be vaccinated against measles, know that your child’s healthcare providers are monitoring nearby measles outbreaks through the CDC’s Health Alert Network (HAN). You can sign up to receive HAN email updates, too!
- If vaccination recommendations change because of an active measles case near you, your healthcare provider would notify you. Otherwise, your providers will continue to follow the CDC-recommended childhood vaccination schedule.
One of the best parts of protecting your family with on-time doses of the MMR vaccine is knowing you are also protecting all the infants and children you come in contact with who can’t be fully vaccinated yet because they are under the age of five. Recent outbreaks of measles so close to Maine remind us how lucky we are to have vaccines to give our children … and how very important it is that all children get them.
FEEL GOOD ABOUT … Protecting your children—and all the children they come in contact with—from a very dangerous childhood illness with two, on-time doses of the MMR vaccine.
TALK ABOUT … How important it is to you that anyone playing with or caring for your children is completely vaccinated against the measles, especially if you have an infant or children under the age of five.
LEARN MORE ABOUT … The symptoms, risks and treatment of measles and how close measles is to Maine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Photo Credit: by Dave Haygarth
UPDATE: You may have heard about “Measles Mary,” a 22-year old, fully vaccinated woman who contracted and then spread measles to four other people in 2011. This case has been highlighted by a number of news sources recently as the measles outbreak becomes more serious.
According to ScienceNOW, less than 1% of people who get both measles vaccinations (the initial vaccination and the booster shot) will contract the disease. This is the first time an outbreak has been traced to a fully vaccinated person. This is not surprising as measles outbreaks continue to stretch across the United States. After analyzing Measles Mary’s blood, researchers found that over time, the immune defenses that should’ve protected Mary from measles broke down; her immune system acted like it had never seen the virus before, instead of having the extra defenses from being vaccinated. This made her situation, as epidemiologist George Rutherford of the University of California, San Francisco claims, “a statistical anomaly.”
While vaccines are not 100% effective, they are still the best chance at protecting yourself and others from getting actual diseases. This logic holds true in many different situations: you wouldn’t refuse an antibiotic just because it is not 100% effective. The chance it will not work is far less than (and not worth) the risks that the disease could bring.
Luckily, there are no animal carriers of measles, so unlike diseases like malaria or Lyme disease, if everyone gets vaccinated against measles, the measles problem should go away on its own (much like smallpox). However, unvaccinated populations make getting rid of measles difficult, as groups of unvaccinated people tend to live in and share the same communities. Measles is highly contagious, which allows the disease to find unprotected people and spread very quickly.
Vax Maine Kids wants Maine parents to know that the case of Measles Mary is a rare one and should not cause you to rethink having your children vaccinated against measles. If anything, this case should serve as a reminder of how important the measles vaccine really is! As Robert Jacobson, director of clinical studies at the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, says, “The most important ‘vaccine failure’ with measles happens when people refuse the vaccine in the first place.”
UPDATE (5/29/14): The CDC reports that a total of 288 confirmed measles cases have been reported, surpassing the highest reported yearly total of measles cases since elimination (220 cases reported in 2011).