The measles outbreak making its way through the country right now has parents on edge. The virus has spread through at least 26 states including Maryland, is sparking a significant concern in light of the buzz around the anti-vaccine movement.
Health experts report the measles virus in the United States was almost wiped out by 2000 with widespread vaccinations protecting the majority of the population. Trends to not vaccinate, however, are allowing the virus to spike again. In 2017, local and state health departments reported 120 confirmed cases of measles for the whole year. This year, 159 cases of measles have been confirmed from January 1 to February 21 and the number continue to rise.
According to an article published this week by NPR, most states allow parents to opt out of vaccines when sending children to school or daycare for religious and medical reasons. Some states allow personal or philosophical exemptions for vaccines but this may not be the case for long. With the alarming spike in confirmed measles cases this winter alone, eight states are making the move to eliminate personal exemptions for the measles vaccines and some states are looking to remove all exemptions for vaccines. Three states so far in the country (California, Mississippi, and West Virginia) prohibit all vaccine exemptions including religious and medical conflicts.
Are Vaccines Really Dangerous to Children?
For the past twenty years, U.S. public health officials and physicians have been pleading with Americans to vaccinate their children, and to disbelieve the “anti-vaccine” movement’s claims that vaccines such as the MMR and MMRV (the vaccine protecting children and adults from measles, mumps, rubella, and pediatric chickenpox) are the cause of autism and other neuro-cognitive disorders.
Aside from families who do not vaccinate based on religious views, many parents are distrusting of vaccines and chose not to vaccinate based on fear of potential long-term health consequences. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children receive 14 immunizations by the time they turn six, all accompanied with a list of side effects that can be worrying for any parent.
Unfortunately, the majority of the reasons why modern day parents do not vaccinate are based, to date at least, on unsubstantiated beliefs that lack scientifically significant data. The data we do have, clearly demonstrates that vaccines stop the contracture and spread of diseases. However, it is understandable that parents want the best for their children, and no one wants to be “wrong” when it comes to their safety.
But, getting the facts is important. It is also important to realize we are NOT ADVOCATING either side. This article is meant to provide information from which parents should make their own decisions about what is best for their children.
According to an article published by Public Health, here are the most common myths about vaccines that have been called into question by scientific research:
- The benefit of vaccines does not outweigh the risk of harm they can cause:
Allergic reactions and severe side effects can and have occurred from vaccines. However, these instances are extremely rare. Data has shown that 9 out of 10 people who are unvaccinated will get the measles virus if they are exposed to it. Compare that to the 1 in every 1,500,000 people who will suffer an allergic reaction. As far as other long term effects are concerned, there have been no credible studies proving long term health conditions from vaccines to date.
- We don’t need more vaccines if infections rates are low: The recent measles outbreak alone has called this conclusion into question. Because so many people in our country became vaccinated from viruses such as the measles, infection rates drop. These viruses don’t necessarily disappear due to populations who cannot be vaccinated, but they do drop significantly. When people stop getting vaccinated, data has shown a significant increase in the incidence and spread of infectious diseases..
- Vaccines Cause Autism: This is one of the scariest claims associated with vaccines. It began around 1997, when an article published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, suggested the MMR vaccine was linked to autism in British children. Fears of autism from vaccines have skyrocketed after the claim and continue to do so. The article has been discredited in the scientific literature. However, some people believe that the pharmaceutical companies that produce the vaccines are behind these “studies”. This is something we suggest talking to your pediatrician about before electing to have your child vaccinated.
- Natural immunity is better: It’s true that immunity to some illnesses can be built by catching it first, but this is not always a safe chance to take. For instance, individuals who contract the measles have a 1 in 500 chance of dying from the disease and an even higher risk of showing severe symptoms of the virus that could cause long-term damage.
- Vaccines are toxic: A number of people are concerned with the contents of vaccines, saying they are toxic and poisonous. It is true that there are low levels of formaldehyde, mercury, and aluminum in vaccines. However, one should be aware that studies to date have never proven the low levels of these ingredients are harmful in any significant way to those receiving the vaccine.
- Vaccines infect people with the virus: Many anti-vaccinators believe that by injecting the vaccine into their child, they are essentially giving them the disease. This is only partly true. Vaccines are scientifically designed to create an immune response, not a disease response. Statistics on the safety of vaccines have shown there is a less than 1 out of 1,000,000 chance that a vaccine recipient will experience disease symptoms from the vaccine. In fact, there is only one recorded case to date of any vaccine causing the disease it was trying to prevent. That was a polio vaccine that is no longer used.
In addition, some people believe that better hygiene could prevent the need for vaccines. Unfortunately, with highly contagious diseases like those that target children, better hygiene has not proven to be effective. Bottom line is, regardless of how vigilant you are about your children’s hygiene, its efficacy for disease prevention is still too depending upon others doing the same thing.
Most At-Risk Groups
Regardless of whether or not you chose to vaccinate your children, there are some populations of individuals who are at high risk of contracting measles because they can’t receive vaccinations:
- Infants: The first measles vaccine is not received until a child is 12 to 15 months old. All infants under 12-months are at risk of measles and can show serious symptoms.
- Pregnant women: The onset of severe symptoms is common for pregnant women whose immune systems are compromised. The measles virus can also cause harm to the unborn child. Unvaccinated pregnant women cannot become vaccinated while they are pregnant due to the risks and must wait until they are postpartum for protection.
- People with weekend immune symptoms: Individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer, HIV/AIDS, platelet issues, are in between vaccines, or had a recent blood transfusion should not receive the MMR vaccine which puts them at high risk for contracting measles.
Signs and Symptoms of Measles
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases on record. If one unvaccinated person has the virus, 9 out of 10 people close to that person and are not protected (vaccinated) will get it as well. While most cases of the measles are mostly uncomfortable, serious cases of the measles, especially in unvaccinated children, can lead to horrifying health consequences such as brain damage or even death.
Signs and symptoms to look out for when monitoring your family for measles include:
- runny nose
- mild conjunctivitis
The measles virus can last for several weeks, with symptoms starting about one to two weeks after exposure. If the virus is not properly recognized and threatened, or someone does not have the immunity to fight the virus easily, the measles virus can also lead to secondary conditions including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain.
Protect Yourself From The Measles
Vaccinating yourself and your family members is currently the only way to protect your loved ones from the dangers the measles virus can bring. According to the CDC, you are protected from the measles if you have undergone one of the following scenarios:
- You received two doses of the measles vaccine and are a school-aged child (grades K-12) or adult.
- You received one dose of the measles vaccine and are of preschool age or an adult with health risks.
- You had a documented case of measles at some point in your life.
- You have had a laboratory test to prove you are immune to measles.
- You were born before 1957.
What To Do If You Think You’re Exposed
If you think you have been exposed to the measles virus, don’t go straight to the emergency room or urgent care. The CDC advises people to call their doctor immediately if you believe you were exposed to determine 1) if you are immune, and 2) if you are not immune, what steps you need to take to reduce your chances of developing the virus.
If you are adamant about not getting vaccinated or unable to receive a vaccination, the CDC advises staying away from any vulnerable locations such as schools, hospitals (unless your doctor recommends medical care), childcare centers, or even certain religious events where large populations could be at risk.
There is no treatment for the measles other than rest, fluids, and over the counter fever and pain medication to ease uncomfortable symptoms. Help protect your children and family by making sure your vaccines are up to date and spreading awareness of the importance of vaccinating to help prevent further spread of this deadly virus.
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