Measles: A Lesson Learned

A young mother sits in the pediatrician’s office with her child. As the doctor begins to explain the immunizations the child will receive, the mother interrupts and says, “Ok, but not the MMR vaccine. I’ve heard it causes autism.” Despite numerous reassurances and 30 minutes of discussion, the child leaves without receiving the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

It’s a scene that has played out in countless numbers of pediatric offices across the globe. After all, it’s just one vaccine, right?

Wrong.

Let’s take measles, for instance.

Before the vaccine was available, almost every child suffered from measles. Each year, approximately 500,000 Americans contracted measles and 500 people died. Fortunately, the MMR vaccine brought much needed relief to American families and reduced measles incidence by more than 98%.

But where are we today?

So far this year, 39 cases of measles have been reported to the CDC. Thirteen of the cases were imported by returning U.S. travelers. Of these cases, 7 occurred in children ages 6-23 months with 4 children requiring hospitalization. Cases have occurred in Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts and Texas. In fact, 5 of the 39 cases occurred in Texas.

Here’s where it comes full circle — 6 of the 7 children were not immunized because of parental concerns about the MMR vaccine. In short, parents today often find themselves more concerned about the vaccine than the disease.

Parental concern is understandable given the conflicting and frightening information on the internet and in the media. When the question was first raised whether vaccines, in particular the MMR vaccine, caused autism, scientists answered loud and clear. Study after study found no link whatsoever between the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine, to autism.

Many parents consider measles a harmless childhood illness and decide that the perceived risk of autism is greater than the real risk of measles. Subsequently, they forgo the MMR vaccine, leaving their child vulnerable to this dangerous vaccine-preventable disease.

Measles should not be taken lightly. It can cause persistent fever, dehydration, diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and death. Pneumonia, in particular, is concerning given that is causes 60% of deaths from measles. But rather than bore you with clinical information let me share a real story of family who discovered just how serious measles can be.

Vaughn Johnson and his mother, Delia

This is Vaughn Johnson and his mother, Delia. Vaughn and Delia contracted measles while on a family vacation in Mexico. Unfortunately, 19-month-old Vaughn had not received his MMR vaccine due to chronic ear infections. In addition to a rash, Vaughn had a persistent, high fever, ear infections, conjunctivitis, and painful sores in his mouth. He was hospitalized for 4 days. Delia also developed flu-like symptoms, a rash, and sores in her mouth. As she puts it, “it was the sickest I’ve ever been.” Today, Delia realizes the value of vaccines and the danger of vaccine-preventable diseases. “Most people have the misconception that these diseases don’t exist anymore, but I can promise you, they do,” she says.

Vaughn’s story is an excerpt from Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story.

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About Rachel Cunningham, MPH, Immunization Project

I am the primary author of Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story.

I am also the Immunization Registry and Educational Specialist at Texas Children's Hospital in the Immunization Project. My focus is primarily on educating health professionals and parents about the importance of vaccines. I've been at Texas Children's Hospital since 2007.

Posted in Autism, Parenting, Vaccines

7 Responses to Measles: A Lesson Learned

  1. Lorraine Leaming says:

    I remember when most school age children had a smallpox vaccination scar on their arms. I am so glad that I did. The disease leaves you with horrible scars. What parent today would not take a chance on letting their child be vaccinated under those circumstances?

    • Rachel Cunningham, MPH, Immunization Project Rachel Cunningham, MPH, Immunization Project says:

      I agree. Smallpox was a devastating disease that took millions of lives. We are fortunate to have eradicated it. Unfortunately, if we don’t keep immunization rates high enough we will see more and more vaccine-preventable diseases occurring. Just like we are right now with the measles outbreaks.

  2. DrV says:

    Nice succinct post, Rachel. I think we all have the obligation to be telling these stories just as you have. Imagine each of the 60,000 members of the AAP just once a year posting a similar reminder. Lots of work to be done.

  3. SA says:

    My daughter is turning 8 in July. She was vaccinated with all the required vaccines and yet y’day she got the Measles Rash outbreak on her body. I am hoping it will be a modified Measles since she has received all the vaccinations

    • Rachel Cunningham, MPH, Immunization Project Rachel Cunningham, MPH, Immunization Project says:

      I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is fully immunized. If you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to seek the advice of a health care professional.

  4. john says:

    Dr. Russell Blaylock MD, a retired neurosurgeon, says that if one takes a moment to consider the history of vaccination, the concept of herd immunity as it applies to vaccines unravels quickly.
    “When I was in medical school, we were taught that all of the childhood vaccines lasted a lifetime. This thinking existed for over 70 years. It was not until relatively recently that it was discovered that most of these vaccines lost their effectiveness 2 to 10 years after being given. What this means is that at least half the population, that is the baby boomers, have had no vaccine-induced immunity against any of these diseases for which they had been vaccinated very early in life. In essence, at least 50% or more of the population was unprotected for decades.
    If we listen to present-day wisdom, we are all at risk of resurgent massive epidemics should the vaccination rate fall below 95%. Yet, we have all lived for at least 30 to 40 years with 50% or less of the population having vaccine protection. That is, herd immunity has not existed in this country for many decades and no resurgent epidemics have occurred.
    Vaccine-induced herd immunity is a lie used to frighten doctors, public-health officials, other medical personnel, and the public into accepting vaccinations.”
    If you are a parent who chooses to vaccinate, note that the concept of herd immunity as it is erroneously applied to vaccines is being used to manipulate you into using scorn and fear to pressure family and friends within your circle of influence into accepting vaccination against their will.

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