Vaccination Protects Kids and Adults

It hasn't happened for decades, but measles is in the news with outbreaks reported in several U.S. communities. How did a disease declared eliminated suddenly reappear in the U.S.? And what can you do to protect your family?

The second question is easy to answer: Vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends one shot of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age and a second one between 4 and 6 years of age. According to the CDC, that should provide a lifetime of protection, and it's about 97% effective. A second option, the measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine, also protects against chicken pox.

In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a measles vaccination is required for most children to attend public school. Laws vary regarding private schools and daycare settings, for college/university students, and for healthcare workers and patients in certain facilities.

Laws also vary regarding who is exempt. New York, where measles has spread quickly in some communities, recently joined a handful of states that do not allow exemptions on religious grounds. The other states are California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi and Maine.

Still have questions? Here are a few answers:

  • Where are measles cases currently, and how did this happen? Measles cases have been reported in 28 states in 2019 as of June 13. The biggest pockets are in New York State, (Rockland County), New York City, California (Butte County), Pennsylvania and Washington. Most of the cases are linked to international travelers who brought measles home. It spreads quickly in communities where many people are not vaccinated.
  • How serious is measles? Measles is more than a minor childhood illness. It can cause life-threatening complications, including pneumonia, brain inflammation, middle-ear infection, severe diarrhea and sometimes death. As many as 1 in 20 children who get measles will also get pneumonia.
  • How contagious is measles? Measles is airborne and highly contagious. The CDC estimates that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. Infected people can spread it from four days before through four days after the rash appears.
  • Who is at risk? Anyone who hasn't been vaccinated or who hasn't developed immunity can get measles. Unvaccinated young children (including babies who are too young to vaccinate) are at highest risk of complications, including death. Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at high risk.
  • Is the measles vaccine safe? In a word, yes. Old reports linking the MMR vaccine with autism were seriously flawed, and numerous studies have shown no link or increased risk of autism in children who are vaccinated compared to children who aren't.
  • Who shouldn't get the measles vaccine? Babies who are younger than 12 months and pregnant women should wait to get vaccinated. Also, people with certain allergies or medical conditions may be advised not to get vaccinated. Find out who shouldn't get vaccinated.
  • Do I need a booster shot? If you were vaccinated as a child, you don't need a booster, according to the CDC. Some health care providers are recommending boosters for certain people.

If you have more questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or your child's pediatrician. He or she can let you know about laws in your state and whether the vaccine is safe for you or your child.