Measles and Vaccination: What You Need to Know

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The measles vaccine first became available in this country in 1963, and the current 2-dose childhood regimen became accepted practice in 1989. By 2000, measles was declared to have been “eliminated” from the US, and medical students and young practitioners quickly became unfamiliar with it, many never having seen a case of the virus. However, measles are back, and spreading quickly.

Outbreaks in upstate New York and elsewhere affected more than 600 people in 2014, and now the largest single outbreak in recent US history, originating in Disneyland in California, has already affected more than 125 people.

You don’t need to get vaccinated if you meet any of these criteria:

  • You have blood tests that show you are immune to measles, or
  • You’ve received 2 full doses of the measles vaccine (usually as a component in the MMR vaccine), or
  • You were born before 1957

How did measles make a comeback?

Some cases may be brought in by travelers from abroad, but most are the result of parents neglecting or refusing to vaccinate their children. These parents are usually well-intentioned–they’ve heard about the possibility of dangerous side effects, and are willing to trade off what they see as the potential perils of the vaccine for the risk of contracting the disease. Measles is extremely contagious, which is why an outbreak can spread so quickly.

Who is at risk for getting measles?

  • People who have never had measles and have never been vaccinated
  • Babies younger than 1 year, since they are too young to be vaccinated
  • People who were vaccinated before 1968, since early vaccines didn’t provide lasting

How long do symptoms last?

In most people, measles is a self-limited, benign albeit unpleasant disorder characterized by a flu-like syndrome (runny nose, cough, and red, light-sensitive eyes), fever, and the classic rash that begins on the head and spreads down the trunk, arms, and legs. Typically, it lasts no longer than 10 days.

What are the possible complications of measles?

Most people with healthy immune systems will recover within 7 to 10 days. However, some people can develop severe complications such as hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), pneumonia, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The mortality rate from measles is extremely low (0.3 percent).

How effective is the measles vaccine?

The vaccine is highly effective–between 97 and 99 percent of recipients develop immunity to measles–and the risks from the vaccine are minimal.

How long will it take to become immune after getting the vaccine?

The protective effect can be seen within several days of being vaccinated.

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Side effects are uncommon and minor, consisting of discomfort, a transient rash, and fever. Rarely, a child may develop a febrile seizure (a convulsion caused by fever that is typically harmless). Very uncommonly (in about 1 person out of 25,000 to 40,000), a person may experience a temporary drop in his or her platelet count.

Is there a link between the measles vaccine and autism?

No. Multiple studies have definitively shown that there is no link between the vaccine and autism.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t get vaccinated?

Because the measles vaccine is live, it shouldn’t be given to pregnant women or people whose immune system is compromised either by disease or immunosuppressive medications.

Do I need to get vaccinated?

If you aren’t certain about your vaccination status, ask your provider for an antibody titer test, which is a lab test that measures the level of antibodies in your blood. Your provider can then determine whether you should be vaccinated. Millions of people over many years have safely been vaccinated. Make sure you and your family are protected against this latest outbreak.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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