Measles Vaccinations

Amy Tishler, Reporter

In the past six weeks, 141 cases of measles have been reported in 17 states. Thirteen cases of the measles in the Chicago area, where my grandparents live, prompted my grandfather to go to the doctor. My grandfather was born in 1944, nineteen years before the measles vaccine was available. He wanted to find out if he had immunity to the disease. He did not. He promptly got the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

My grandfather told me that he did this in order to protect not only himself but also my grandmother, who cannot get the vaccine because she has multiple sclerosis, and his one-year-old granddaughter, who is still too young to get vaccine. In addition, my grandfather explained that he got vaccinated in order to protect other members of his community.

This is an important point. Vaccines provide herd immunity, which means that as long as 95% of the population is vaccinated,  the disease is unlikely to appear in that area. In recent years, however, more and more people are opting not to vaccinate themselves or their children. Measles outbreaks are cropping up in places where the vaccination rate is low and herd immunity is weak.

In order to ensure that most people get vaccinated, the MMR vaccine is mandatory for students entering kindergarten in public schools.  Some students are exempt from getting the vaccine for medical reasons. They cannot the MMR vaccine because they have diseases, like cancer, that affect their immune systems. However, many schools also give exemptions for “personal beliefs.”

I believe that vaccines should be mandatory for all kindergarten-aged children. I feel that “personal beliefs” are not a valid reason for not getting vaccinated, and that schools should eliminate such exemptions.

I asked my pediatrician what “personal beliefs” people have that makes them choose not to vaccinate. The main reasons are as follows.  (1)  They think getting the measles isn’t so bad. (2)  They think that the vaccine is ineffective and is a scam by doctors, the government, and pharmaceutical companies. (3)  They believe that the vaccine is unsafe. These beliefs simply aren’t true. Below I dispel these common myths about measles.

MYTH:  Getting the measles isn’t that bad.

FACT:  Measles is very serious. Complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain), occur in 30% measles cases. In the United States, for every 1,000 people infected with the measles, 2 or 3 will die.

MYTH:  The vaccine is ineffective and is a scam by the government and pharmaceutical companies to make money.

FACT:  Before the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, three to four million Americans contracted the illness each year. Since then, measles has been virtually eradicated in the United States. In 2004, only 37 cases of measles were reported. Most of these cases occurred in people who were not vaccinated. Measles is highly contagious, and an unvaccinated person has a 90% chance of contracting the disease if exposed to it. 97% of the people who are vaccinated develop full immunity.

MYTH:  The MMR vaccine is not safe.

FACT:  Complications from the vaccine occur in less than one out of a million doses. Getting the vaccine is much safer than getting the measles.

MYTH:  The MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine causes autism.

FACT:  In 1998, an English doctor published a study saying that the MMR vaccine causes autism. It was later discovered that the doctor was paid by lawyers who were looking for evidence against vaccine makers. The medical journal that published the study retracted it. Since then, more than twenty studies have shown no link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

MYTH:  The vaccine contains dangerous preservatives.

FACT:  Thimerosal, a mercury-based substance was taken out of the vaccine in 2001. Vaccines are now put in single dose vials, and that way no preservatives are needed.

In summary, schools should not grant “personal belief” exemptions for the MMR vaccine because people who don’t get vaccinated aren’t just hurting themselves. They are weakening herd immunity and are putting the other people in their community at risk, including young children, elderly people, people who are very ill, and the 3% of people for whom vaccination doesn’t grant full immunity. Getting vaccinated is a civic duty. It is the right thing to do.