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Why is it important for my child to receive the measles vaccine?

Rebecca Pellett Madan, MD

As pediatric infectious disease specialists, we are passionate advocates of on-time vaccination for our patients. Vaccination is one of our most important tools in promoting the health of our patients and their families. Recent outbreaks of measles have proven that serious, vaccine-preventable diseases can quickly reemerge when rates of vaccination decline within the community. Measles infection may cause pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain that may result in permanent damage), as well as a form of progressive neurological deterioration that becomes apparent several years after the initial measles infection. 1 to 3 of every 1000 infected children may die from measles. However children under the age of 5 years and children who have a weakened immune system because they have cancer or an organ transplant are at much higher risk to die from measles. Children with weakened immune systems from cancer or transplant are especially vulnerable because they cannot receive measles vaccination and must depend on the protective “herd immunity” that occurs when other children in the community are vaccinated.

Thanks to an effective vaccine, measles was eliminated in the United States as of 2000.  However rates of measles vaccination have fallen in some communities, and in 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a record number of 644 measles cases in 27 states, including 26 cases in New York City.  The outbreak in NYC has ended, but other parts of the U.S. are now experiencing a widespread measles outbreak linked to an amusement park in California. The virus that causes measles is highly contagious and easily spreads through respiratory secretions. 85 measles cases were reported in January 2015 alone. Unfortunately the majority of those who became infected with measles in these outbreaks were unvaccinated.

It can be hard for parents to navigate information about vaccines. Some are concerned about a possible link between the measles vaccine and autism. However numerous studies that investigated hundreds of thousands of children in multiple countries indicate that the measles vaccine does not cause autism. Vaccination against measles does not increase your child’s risk of autism and is the best way to protect your child against measles. The first dose of measles vaccine is given at 12 months of age.  This first dose can be given as early as 6 months of age if there is concern that a baby will be exposed to measles. The second dose is given at 4-6 years of age, typically before your child starts kindergarten. Make sure that your child is vaccinated on time. And if you plan to travel internationally, be sure to speak to your pediatrician as early as possible before your trip. Infants who are at least 6 months of age should receive measles immunization prior to international travel and may require additional vaccines.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html

http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/cd/2014/measles-alert-05282014.pdf

American Academy of Pediatrics. In Pickering LK, ed. Red Book:  2012 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 29th Edition. Elk Grove Village, IL.

Offit, PA. Addressing parents’ concerns:  Do vaccines contain harmful preservatives, adjuvants, additives, or residuals? Pediatrics 2003; 112:1394-1401.

Madsen K. Thimerosal and occurrence of autism: Negative ecological evidence from Danish population-based data. Pediatrics 2003;112:604-606.

Madsen, KM, et al. A population-based study of measles, mumps, rubella vaccination and autism. N Engl J Med 2002;347:1477-1482.