Just last week, we noted that a measles outbreak in the Bay Area was causing health problems and leading to numerous health warnings, especially for passengers on BART. Now, news of another outbreak has popped up, this time across the country in New York City, with four hospitalizations so far and victims as young as three months old.
Measles can cause significant health problems, up to and including death. While people who were healthy at the time of infection may be able to fight it off without long-term effects, other patients are not so lucky. They can experience scars and damage to the heart and nervous system. Measles was once a very common childhood illness, but that stopped when researchers developed an effective vaccine for it and distributed it widely, creating what’s known as herd immunity — essentially, so few people are effective hosts for a virus that it can’t spread.
Vaccines work only when they are applied consistently across the whole population, because even a well-vaccinated population has some outliers. Very young children can’t have vaccines because their immune systems aren’t strong enough yet, and vaccines are unsafe for some people with compromised immune systems, like those with autoimmune diseases and HIV.
That’s why it’s important for as many people as possible to get vaccinated in childhood, and for adults to make sure they have had the recommended two doses of MMR vaccine. With everyone staying vaccinated, rare incidents of infection have nowhere to go because the virus can’t leap to anyone else, and it fizzles out before it has a chance to harm vulnerable infants, older adults, and people who can’t get vaccines for health reasons.
Should I get revaccinated for measles?
According to Slate magazine, “if you’re old enough to read this article, you should have had two doses of MMR vaccine. Most people receive the first dose just after their first birthday. The single shot confers immunity to measles in more than 95 percent of recipients. You should have received a second dose around the age of 4. (Older readers may not have received the second shot until later in life; the recommendation for the double dose wasn’t made until the 1990s.) The two-dose regimen confers lifelong immunity to the overwhelming majority of people.”
Measles was supposedly eliminated from the United States in 2000, but it’s coming back with a vengeance, bringing its highly contagious (and unpleasant) rash into fashionable and poor neighborhoods alike, lurking under New York roofs and on Miami beaches. This resurgence has been attributed to the anti-vaccination movement in the United States, which has created large holes and gaps in a formerly tight net of herd immunity.
It’s critically important to keep up with all your vaccinations as both a child and adult. Your doctor can provide advice on which vaccines and boosters are needed and when, as can the Department of Public Health in your area. Call for advice, and if you are concerned about the cost, you may qualify for free vaccinations. Many clinics offer traveling vaccination stations for people who can’t afford to take time off from work, and drugstores frequently provide a quick vaccination option as well to offer yet another option.
Vaccination protects you from potentially fatal diseases, as well as the people around you. Get a vaccine so you can cuddle your friends’ babies without having to worry, and visit friends in ICU or other areas of the hospital without unknowingly bringing a potentially fatal infection with you. The risks associated with vaccination are extremely low, and if you don’t get vaccinated, they’re much, much higher.