The importance of the measles vaccine: What to know for your child
Preventing diseases is just as crucial as treating them, and vaccinations play an important role in safeguarding our families and communities. But even with vaccinations and other preventative measures, there recently has been a rise in several conditions that had previously been eradicated. Measles is one of them.
Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that occurs throughout the world. The symptoms are similar to other viral infections and include a cough, fever, malaise and a rash. While some children get over the measles in a few days, others may develop severe complications such as encephalitis (brain infection) or pneumonia (lung infection).
Fortunately, there is a way to prevent infection from measles. In the US, protection is given in the form of a three-component shot, where your child is vaccinated for three diseases at the same time: measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
When should my child be vaccinated for measles?
I recommend that you follow the scheduling guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children should have two doses of the vaccine. The first shot should be given between the ages 12 to 15 months, and the second shot is between age 4 to 6 years. After the second injection, your child will be almost 99% immunized against measles.
If you’re an adult who never received the measles vaccine, you will need least one dose of the MMR vaccine.
Why is measles coming back and should I be concerned about it?
Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1960, measles was a huge concern for children and adults alike. By 1985, it was estimated that the vaccine had prevented 52 million cases and 5,200 deaths of measles.
As a result of the vaccine, measles has not been circulating widely in the United States for decades. But outbreaks of measles cases have been increasing since 2010 as the number of children receiving the vaccine has declined. The virus is easily imported by unvaccinated travelers and can spread in under-immunized communities. In 2019, more than 1,200 cases of measles were reported in the United States—the highest number in decades. The CDC reports that there were 41 cases in 2023.
Much of the hesitancy around giving children the MMR vaccine is the result of a retracted study that contained misinformation about side effects from the vaccine. Despite overwhelming evidence disproving this theory, it still is highlighted in media reports and on the internet, leading to some parents questioning whether to vaccinate their child.
Can I talk to my family physician about the measles vaccine?
Your family medicine physician will be happy to speak with you about the importance of the measles vaccine and why it’s crucial to immunize your child at the right time. I counter any vaccine hesitancy by establishing a positive dialogue with my patients, identifying any caregiver concerns and providing education to answer those concerns.
It’s also vital to maintain a relationship with the families I work with and make every effort to follow the recommended immunization schedule for children. This approach is consistent with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and is why having regular appointments with your family physician is a key part of your family’s health and well-being.
Have questions about the measles or MMR vaccine? Talk to your primary care doctor or pediatrician. If you don't have a family doctor, find one near you.
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