Of all the routine childhood vaccinations, the MMR vaccine--against measles, mumps and rubella--has been subject to the most attack after a discredited paper was published and later retracted.
Yet nearly 20 years after the paper was published, it continues to confuse many parents and other members of the public about an extremely valuable vaccine, especially for its outstanding effectiveness protecting against measles, a dangerous and highly contagious disease.
Here are five facts that you might not know about measles--and five facts about the vaccine—so that you can gain a clearer picture.
5 Facts about Measles:
- Before 1963, when the United States began its vaccination program, 3 to 4 million people got sick from measles each year andamong tens of thousands, the illness was serious enough to require hospitalization. Two people of every thousand who get measles die of it, and one in every thousand develops encephalitis. Pneumonia is a common complication, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Measles is highly contagious; 90% of people who lack immunity and are close to a sickened person will become sick themselves.
- The measles virus can live for up to two hours in the air where an infected person coughed or sneezed. Other people can become infected by breathing the contaminated are or touching a contaminated surface and then touching their faces, even though the sick person left the area more than an hour before.
- Doctors can prevent measles with vaccines, but there is no cure for it once someone is sickened.
- Worldwide, where many children have not yet had access to measles vaccines, the disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children. In 2015 alone, 134,200 people died of measles, or about 367 deaths every day.
5 Facts about the Measles Vaccine:
- The measles vaccine is among the most effective vaccines—97% among those who have received the two recommended doses, and 93% effective among those who received only one dose.
- The MMR vaccine—for protection against measles, mumps and rubella—does not and never has contained thimerosal, the preservative that contains ethyl mercury (and that never has been found to harm vaccine recipients).
- Many studies have found no link between vaccines and autism, but one of the most conclusive studies was conducted in Denmark specifically on the MMR vaccine. The records of hundreds of thousands of children were followed, and researchers found no increase in risk of autism among vaccinated children.
- The measles vaccine isn’t 100% free of serious side effects—remember, even aspirin can have side effects--but they are extremely rare. For example, the chance of developing encephalitis after a dose of the vaccine against measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox is one in 3 million, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, compared with one in 1,000 for people who are sickened by measles. It also isn’t clear whether those encephalitis cases were actually caused by the vaccine, even though they occurred after it.
- Never got your shots and then found out you may have been exposed to measles? You can still get the vaccination within 72 hours of exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you still develop the illness, it’s usually milder and doesn’t last as long.
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