Vaccinations: After the Disneyland Measles Outbreak
4 vax facts to ease immunization concerns
The measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland back in December continues to proliferate, causing 155 cases in 16 states and counting. While our region has so far been spared, we are not immune to the spread of preventable diseases: Philadelphia experienced a deadly measles outbreak in 1991, nine years before the disease was declared “eliminated” in the US, and just last year Delaware saw statewide cases of whooping cough (aka pertussis) quadruple, after a flare-up in an Amish community where vaccines are shunned.
Though the most recent National Immunization Survey reported that our general area registers above-average vaccination rates, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware all permit medical and religious exemptions to public school immunization requirements, and Pennsylvania further allows for philosophical exemptions. The debate has entered the presidential campaign, with prospective candidates sparring on the science (locally, NJ Governor Chris Christie has voiced a controversial support of parental choice). Given the public health risk involved, here are four facts aimed at quelling vaccination skepticism.
1. Measles is more than just a rash.
Though people tend to think of this respiratory disease as a minor illness, 1 in every 20 children who get measles will develop pneumonia and 1 in every 1,000 develop encephalitis, which can be fatal (as it famously was for Roald Dahl’s 7-year-old daughter) or cause deafness or brain damage. Up until 2013, 28 percent of measles patients younger than 5 needed hospitalization.
2. Measles is highly contagious.
Unlike Ebola, source of last year’s nationwide medical scare, measles is a highly contagious, airborne disease that is easily transmitted and lingers in the air for up to two hours after, say, a sneeze. If 90 percent of a community is not vaccinated, “herd immunity” is compromised and diseases thought to have been eradicated once again become dangerous.
3. The MMR vaccine is effective.
CDC guidelines recommend that children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps and rubella), the first between the ages of 12 and 15 months, the second between 4 and 6 years. Immunity is never 100 percent, but a single dose is considered to be 93 percent effective, while both inoculations bump that figure up to 97 percent. Side effects are unusual, and generally present as a mild fever or rash if they occur.
4. The vaccine-autism link has been definitively debunked.
No less an authority on autism spectrum disorders than Autism Speaks last month clearly confirmed that vaccines do not cause autism and all parents should have their children vaccinated. The study originally claiming a link between the two has long been discredited and retracted, its author stripped of his medical license.