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Measles and Vaccination: What You Need to Know

Apr 11, 2019
By Malcolm Thaler

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 the disease, many never having seen a case of the virus. However, measles are back, and spreading throughout communities in the US. The current outbreak has affected over 460 people in 19 states, with the largest outbreaks in New York and New Jersey.

How did measles make a comeback?

The measles infection is brought in by travelers from abroad, and cases then spread within communities primarily where parents are neglecting or refusing to vaccinate their children. Measles is extremely contagious, which is why an outbreak can spread so quickly.

Who is at high 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 born after 1957 and were vaccinated before 1968

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 3 out of every 1,000 people who get the disease.

Who is already immune?

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 effective is the measles vaccine?

The vaccine is highly effective. Between 97 and 99 percent of vaccine recipients develop immunity to measles.

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. When they do occur they are mild and may consist of discomfort at the site of injection, a transient rash, low-grade fever, joint aches or swollen lymph nodes. 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), there may be a temporary drop in the platelet count. These side effects pale in comparison to the risk of severe complications from the disease.

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 should not be given to pregnant women or anyone 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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Malcolm Thaler

Malcolm enjoys being on the front lines of patient care, managing diagnostic and therapeutic challenges with a compassionate, integrative approach that stresses close doctor-patient collaboration. He is the author and chief editor of several best-selling medical textbooks and online resources, and has extensive expertise in managing a wide range of issues including the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sports injuries. Malcolm graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, received his MD from Duke University, and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Harvard's New England Deaconess Hospital and Temple University Hospital. He joined One Medical from his national award-winning Internal Medicine practice in Pennsylvania and was an attending physician at The Bryn Mawr Hospital since 1986. He is certified through the American Board of Internal Medicine. Malcolm is a One Medical Group provider and sees patients in our New York offices.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities 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.