Ask Kim – May 1

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Dear Kim,

Measles are spreading fast across the country.  I didn’t have my kids vaccinated!  What should I do?



Dear Twyla,

Let the great debate begin.  Many parents have not had their children vaccinated for a multitude of reasons.  Some personal, while others have to do with religious teachings.  One thing is for certain, people who have not been vaccinated are at risk. 

Vox says:  Even a small number of unvaccinated people can make it much easier for a disease to spread and survive.  There is a concept in science called “herd immunity,” which refers to the idea that a lot of people need to get a given vaccine, whether it’s for the flu or measles, to stop a disease from spreading. Vaccinated people essentially act as barriers to outbreaks, since diseases can’t pass through them and infect others.  This barrier helps protect some of the most vulnerable populations: infants under 12 months of age, who can’t get vaccinated and are more susceptible to infection; the elderly, who have a higher risk of death if they contract vaccine-treatable illnesses; and people with compromised immune systems, who can’t get vaccines and are more likely to die from the diseases they protect against.  The public health goal is to vaccinate everyone who is able so there’s herd immunity for all vaccine-treatable illnesses. Over time, this would eradicate dangerous diseases — specifically, those that are exclusive to humans — by stopping them from spreading and developing in human hosts.

Children who are older than the CDC’s recommended ages for vaccination and have not received their shots should get vaccinated, said Dr. Jennifer Lighter-Fisher, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.  In fact, even if you’re exposed to someone who currently has measles, if you get vaccinated within three days of being exposed, you could be protected, Lighter-Fisher told Live Science.  The only people who should not get the MMR vaccine are infants younger than 12 months, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems (such as those who have cancer or AIDS), or those who are allergic to the vaccine, she said.

The MMR vaccine is “absolutely safe,” and has been given to millions of people around the world, Lighter-Fisher said. “There’s no association with autism; it has been studied in hundreds of thousands of people.”  In fewer than one in 1 million cases, the vaccine can cause a severe allergic reaction. More common reactions include fever, a mild rash or swelling of glands in the cheek or neck, according to the CDC.  But contracting measles can be far worse.  “Before the vaccine, there were 2.6 million deaths per year caused by measles” worldwide, Lighter-Fisher said. “In 2013, there were 146,000 deaths globally,” from measles, or about 440 deaths per day, she added.

Last year’s Ebola epidemic got an enormous amount of media attention, but the chances of getting Ebola are extremely rare. “Ebola’s like a shark bite,” Lighter-Fisher said. By contrast, measles is “extremely contagious,” yet entirely preventable.

“No one has to have measles,” she said.

Seriously though, long story-short.  If I were you, I’d take the kids to get vaccinated.

Have a question?  Ask Kim!

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