Say no to measles (and yes to vaccination)

Why parents should immunize their children

February 18, 2014
Child gets a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine

Nearly half a century after the measles vaccine became routine for U.S. children, few people remember how dangerous the disease can be.

But each year, the virus — which is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes — still kills more than 120,000 people around the globe who haven’t been immunized.

Given today’s interconnected world of international travelers, it is vital for parents to get their children vaccinated against the measles — to ensure their health and everyone else’s, said UC Irvine Health pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Behnoosh Afghani.

“Measles is a deadly disease and one of the most contagious,” said Afghani, “It’s associated with serious complications. In addition to rash, diarrhea and high fevers, dehydration is very common.” About one patient in 20  who contract measles develop pneumonia; one in 1,000 measles patients develop encephalitis and one or two in 1,000 patients die, she added.

When at least 95 percent of a given population is immunized, the risk of measles spreading is very low. However, in recent years, unfounded fear that autism is linked to the measles vaccine or to combination vaccines has led to lower immunization rates in parts of the United States.

“Because of the decrease in vaccination rates, we are seeing more cases of the measles,” Afghani said. “Parents should look at the scientific evidence and sources rather than listen to hearsay. By not vaccinating, parents put their own child and other children at risk of getting the disease.”

Learn more about recent measles cases reported in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties ›

Dr. Behnoosh Afghani, UC Irvine Health pediatric infectious disease specialist

We asked Dr. Afghani whether the combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is safe.

Q. How safe is the MMR vaccine?

The vaccine is very safe.  Each year, millions of children are vaccinated safely.

Q. Are there side effects?

Yes and they are usually mild – mainly soreness or swelling at the site of the injection, a mild fever and fussiness.  Serious reactions are very rare. Contact your pediatrician if your child has any reaction that concerns you.

Q. My pediatrician says my child should get the first vaccination at 12 to 15 months of age? Why so young?

The appropriate age for vaccination is determined by weighing the risks of the disease with the vaccine’s effectiveness. Early vaccination is important because the incidence of measles and its complications is very high among children under age 5.

Studies also have shown that children who receive the vaccine at 12 months to 15 months of age develop a stronger immunity to measles compared to younger infants.

Q. Why does my child need two doses of the vaccine?

About two percent to five percent of people require a second dose of the vaccine to develop full immunity to the measles virus. That is why a second dose is recommended between ages 4 and 6.

For older individuals who have not been vaccinated or whose lab tests show no immunity to the measles virus, two vaccinations one month apart is recommended.

Q. Is there a link between autism and childhood vaccinations?

No.  A study published in 1998 in the British journal Lancet suggested that the MMR vaccine caused autism in 12 children in has resulted in long-lasting damage to public health. This poorly done study has caused inappropriate fear about vaccines. Lancet retracted the study in 2010 An editorial in the British Medical Journal in 2011 described the study as wrong and fraudulent.

Multiple studies since 1998 have shown that there are no links between the vaccine and autism. The signs and symptoms of autism usually are recognized by parents at about one or two years of age. Because the measles vaccine is given at the same time, parents may suspect the vaccine, a coincidental association rather than a cause and effect.

Learn more about childhood vaccinations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ›

— Kristina Lindgren, UC Irvine Health Marketing & Communications

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