According to the CDC, from January 1 to February 28, 2019, 206 individual measles cases have been confirmed in 11 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.1 While many of these are individual cases, six outbreaks have been reported in Rockland County, Monroe County (both in New York State), New York City, Washington, Texas and Illinois. An outbreak is defined as three or more cases; however, in Texas, those cases span several counties.
Measles is one of the most contagious viruses known. While it sounds like a skin condition and does result in a rash, measles is a virus that infects the respiratory system and is spread through respiratory droplets of infected individuals, usually through coughing or sneezing.
For parents keeping up with the recent news, word of outbreaks can cause fear for their children who have not been vaccinated against the measles due to age (the MMR vaccine is usually offered between 12 and 15 months, with a second dose administered between age four and six) or due to compromised immune systems, as advised by a healthcare professional.2 We spoke with Dr. Sydney Kometani of Austin’s First Steps, who gave us answers to some questions about the recent outbreaks and what parents need to know about vaccinating their children against this and other dangerous diseases.
Should parents of preemies vaccinate their children on a difference schedule than term babies?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that it is safe for a medically stable preemie to receive immunizations following the same schedule as term babies.
Who is most at risk for measles?
Measles is highly contagious and is more serious for children under age five and adults older than 20.
What is the danger of not vaccinating your child against measles?
Not vaccinating your child puts them at risk for contracting measles and the complications associated with it. These include ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and death. Not vaccinating also affects our community and herd immunity.
What is “herd immunity?” Why or why not should parents depend on herd immunity to keep themselves and their children safe from disease?
Herd immunity means a community is protected by the spread of a contagious disease because the community has immunity due to vaccinations. Measles herd immunity requires 93-95% of our community to have immunity in order to limit the spread of the disease. Austin has a number of families opting for nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations. It has been reported in the Austin American-Statesman that in some Austin kindergarten classes, as many 45% of the children in class are unvaccinated.3 This means people in Austin cannot count on herd immunity for protection.
What would you say to ease parents’ minds amidst the current news of measles outbreaks?
I would tell parents who have immunized children not to worry, but to keep up with the news. If measles cases become a public health concern, it is sometimes recommended for infants less than a year old to receive an early MMR vaccination.
What would you say to a parent who is on the fence about vaccinating their child against measles?
Vaccines are safe and save lives. I would encourage parents to talk with their medical provider about their concerns. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a great website with vaccine education for professionals and families.
The good news is that the measles vaccine offers long-term immunity. About 95 to 98 of every 100 people will be protected after getting one dose of the MMR vaccine and 99 of 100 after two doses.4 Talk to your doctor and your child’s doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the measles vaccine or your own immunity.