by Dennis Dalman
By age 2, about 13 percent of babies in Minnesota remain unvaccinated for the measles virus, said Dr. Tom Schrup, a CentraCare pediatrician.
Typically, a first vaccination is given at 12 months and a second dose between the ages of 4 and 5.
However, parents can sign a personal-beliefs statement so their children will not have to be vaccinated to enter kindergarten, and they can then be given a waiver, Schrup noted. The unvaccinated children can mingle and mix with vaccinated children in schools and elsewhere.
“That’s increasingly common here,” Schrup said, “but it’s not as high as in California. I’ve been here (the St. Cloud area) for 20 years, and it (people not getting vaccinated) has become more common in recent years.”
And it was in southern California, Disneyland to be exact, a measles outbreak occurred recently, infecting many children. Since then, 102 cases of measles have been reported in 14 states, including one in Minnesota at the University of Minnesota campus.
When the vaccination rate is above 95 percent of the population, measles and other diseases warded off by vaccinations are virtually unheard of, but Schrup said once that rate declines below 95 percent, outbreaks can and do happen.
Babies under the age of 12 months cannot receive a measles vaccination and so they are susceptible to acquiring the disease by anyone around them who has not been vaccinated, Schrup noted. That, he said, is one of the best reasons everyone should be vaccinated.
Schrup urges parents to vaccinate their children, but some just cannot be convinced because they’ve heard the vaccine is dangerous – that it can cause autism or other terrible outcomes or side effects.
“Those parents really think they are doing the right thing,” he said.
But the factual thing, he added, is the measles vaccine has proven since its inception in 1963 to be extremely safe and effective. The bogus connection between the vaccine and autism is just that – bogus. That false alarm was started years ago by a doctor writing a baseless article in the British medical journal Lancet. That doctor was completely discredited and lost his license to practice medicine. The journal printed a retraction. And yet, the false connection lived on via the Internet, word of mouth and other forms of unreliable disseminations.
Schrup said it’s unfortunate some people are willing to believe someone on the Internet rather than their own doctors.
“There is no science to back up those beliefs,” he said. “It’s distressing to us because our patients are children. Many parents are being misled.”
Schrup said it’s irresponsible for politicians to comment inaccurately about the measles just to score political points.
“This is not a political issue,” he said flatly. “It’s a public-health issue.”
Schrup said getting a measles vaccination is as simple as making an appointment with a local clinic or doctor.
Like Schrup, Stearns County Public Health Director Renee Frauendienst also expresses frustration some parents consider the measles vaccine unsafe and, thus, will not have their children vaccinated.
“The evidence is very strong that vaccinations are very safe,” she said. “Of course, with everything there is a risk. But with this vaccine, any side effects are extremely rare.”
Some people, she noted, cannot get a measles vaccine because they have some sort of allergy or because they have a compromised immune system. Those people, she said, rely for their health on the rest of people – the huge majority – getting vaccinations.
As far as measles in central Minnesota, so far, so good, Frauendienst noted. Still, she and her staff remain vigilant. In the past, any suspected measles cases were carefully checked out and proved negative.
“Health-care providers are very good about keeping up to date and being really vigilant for a case of measles or ruling out measles as a cause of an illness,” she said.
Now and then, Frauendienst gets calls from people concerned about measles or with questions about vaccinations.
People should check their medical records at home, if they have them, to see if their vaccination records are up to date. If they don’t have such records – and many people do not – they should call their clinic to check vaccination status. If they don’t have a clinic, they can call the county health department, and it can check a national registry to see if any documentation is there. If no documentation of any sort can be found and memory fails, it’s best for adults to get a one-time measles vaccination, just in case they never had them when they were children, Frauendienst advises.
What is it?
Measles is an upper-respiratory disease caused by an extremely contagious airborne virus.
Symptoms usually develop within a week to two weeks and can include a high fever, runny nose, watery and red eyes, spots in the mouth, weakness, loss of appetite, a hacking cough and a speckled bumpy red rash that covers much of the body.
The illness usually lasts from seven to 10 days if complications do not develop. Such complications can include severe diarrhea, pneumonia, ear infections, sinusitis, bronchitis and in rare cases brain inflammation that can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
Measles can be especially dangerous in young children or older adults, especially pregnant women.
Typically, the vaccination against measles is a combination shot known as an MMR that also guards against mumps and rubella.
Life-threatening adverse reactions to a measles vaccination occur in less than one person per million vaccinations, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
History of measles
Measles have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, according to the CDC, from which the following information was made available.
When Europeans came to the New World, they brought along their diseases, including deadly smallpox and measles – diseases completely unknown to the inhabitants of North and South America. Because of their lack of exposure and immunity, entire indigenous populations were decimated, virtually wiping out many tribes.
Measles were just a fact of life for all people. Most Americans caught the disease, usually as children, and then recovered. About two people in a thousand died of some side effect.
About three to four million people suffered cases of measles each year before the advent of the measles vaccine. Of those, anywhere from 400 to 500 died, with about 50,000 hospitalizations annually and about 4,000 of those developing encephalitis (brain swelling).
In 1963, a measles vaccine became available, thanks to a drug developed by a man named Maurice Hilleman. Vaccinations began. By the year 2000, in the United States, measles was virtually eradicated thanks to vaccination programs – “eradication” meaning measles had been absent for a year or more in a specific geographical location.
However, in other countries the disease persisted because of lack of vaccinations. The disease once again entered the United States because of travelers to and from the country, and because vaccinations had declined through the years, outbreaks began happening again.
Outbreaks typically occur in geographic areas or communities where vaccinations are rejected by people due to religious, philosophical or personal reasons. For example, an outbreak in Amish communities in Ohio in 2014 caused 383 cases of measles. In 2011, there was a major measles outbreak in France. Recently, measles cases skyrocketed in the Philippines.
Measles cases in the United States have seen several spikes since 2000: 37 people in 2004 and in 2014 a long-time high of 644 people. So far, in 2015, there have been 102 cases in the country, but health experts are fearful that number will almost certainly increase because of the increasing numbers of people of all ages who have never been vaccinated.