Recent outbreaks of measles have raised the alarm again about measles vaccinations. More than 760 cases of measles have been reported in 23 states, including two in my home state of Florida. This is the highest number of cases recorded in the United States in the past 25 years.
The reason for this increase in measles cases is no mystery. Measles vaccinations have declined in recent years due to widespread false reports that measles vaccine can cause autism.
This hysteria over the safety of the vaccine was started by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who published an article in the respected medical journal, The Lancet, in which he claimed an association between autism and the measles vaccine. Although Wakefield’s research has since been widely discredited, the myth he spawned continues to impact vaccination rates largely because of social media promotion of the myth.
This problem is not unique to the United States. Rising cases of measles in Europe, especially Romania, are sounding alarms.
Pietro Lombardi, writing for The Wall Street Journal, says Romania is fighting a deadly measles outbreak that has seen more than 15,000 people infected with the disease and that has claimed 59 lives since one of Europe’s most lethal measles outbreaks in decades started in 2016. More than 41,000 people were infected with measles in the first half of this year in the wider European region, compared with roughly 24,000 for all of 2017, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The problem, once again, is skepticism about vaccine safety. Despite consistent medical evidence that these vaccines are safe, ignorance and misinformation continues to plague attempts to improve rates of vaccination.
Concern has now spread to even adults who worry they could get measles, too. The risk for adults depends on your age and exposure to measles in the past. Any adult who has had measles previously is at virtually no risk of ever contracting measles again. Those who never had measles but were vaccinated in 1969, the first year of the vaccine, probably should consider getting a booster vaccination because the original was less effective.
If you’re unsure of your vaccination history or about prior measles infection as a child, the simple answer is to be vaccinated. If you’re already immune, the additional vaccination won’t hurt you. If you’re not, you’ll be protecting yourself from the disease. If this is your first vaccination, a second shot is recommended to increase your protection from about 95% with one to 100% with two.
Measles is not an innocuous disease. Before 1963, when the measles vaccine became available in the U. S., there were more than 500,000 reported measles cases every year, according to the CDC. On average, 432 cases a year resulted in death. By the year 2000 the number of cases had dwindled to 86 and the number of deaths in the U.S. to zero.
But recent outbreaks in Europe mentioned above prove the virus has not lost its deadly potential. Parents should be aware that the risk of serious neurological disease following vaccination is one in 365,000 doses – but the risk of death with the disease is one or two in just 1,000. Adults who have never had the disease nor the vaccination should be vaccinated as soon as possible.