Is the vaccine safe and effective?
The measles vaccine is very, very safe and very, very effective. The measles virus is the exact same virus we’ve always had. It’s not like the flu, for which we have to get a vaccine every year because the virus keeps changing. If someone gets two doses of measles vaccine, that person will be 97% protected. It’s believed that measles immunity is lifelong after you’ve received two doses of the vaccine. Note that the measles vaccine is given with the mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) or with mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox) vaccine (MMRV).
When should people get vaccinated?
The first dose of the vaccine is usually given at 12–15 months old, and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age.
What can I do if I was born before the measles vaccine was introduced, or if the recommendation when I was born was only one dose?
Adults born before 1957 can be considered to be immune because nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years old before the vaccine was introduced in 1963. Adults born in 1957 or later without documentation of having received their measles vaccine should receive at least one dose of the vaccine.
Adults vaccinated between 1963 and 1967 may have received the killed measles vaccine, which was less effective. They should talk with their doctor about getting revaccinated with the current live measles vaccine.
Some adults who are in a setting with a high risk for measles transmission should make sure to have two doses of measles vaccine. These include college students, healthcare personnel, international travelers, and those who public health authorities determine are at increased risk for getting measles during a measles outbreak.
If I’m not sure whether I’ve been vaccinated, should I get vaccinated again?
There are two things that can be done. One is you could get one or two doses of the measles vaccine. The other is a blood test called measles IgG. It measures an antibody that is considered protective against measles, so if you are measles IgG positive, it means you are protected and immune.
Is there any harm in getting a vaccine if I don’t need one?
No. If somebody had two doses as a child and then gets another dose as an adult, that’s safe. There is no harm in that.
Have most health workers seen a case of measles? How is this being addressed so that they recognize the symptoms?
Many doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have never seen a case of measles since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. My infection prevention and control colleagues and I have given dozens of lectures about measles to various clinical groups and spoken in group huddles throughout the hospital. These educational opportunities include showing pictures of rashes and describing the symptoms and complications. During the outbreak especially, we also teach the staff to “THINK MEASLES.”
Are there concerns with international travel?
If somebody is planning international travel, they should speak to their doctor and review the measles immune status of every person in their family. Measles is so prevalent now internationally that you really want to make sure that everybody is vaccinated, and that even includes very young babies.
The CDC now recommends that if a baby between 6 and 11 months of age is going to travel internationally, they should receive the measles vaccine, even though we don’t usually vaccinate such young babies. People who are traveling internationally should connect with their physicians at least a month prior to their travel to make sure that everybody has had the correct vaccines.
Aside from getting vaccinated, what else can people do to avoid exposure?
The bottom line message is to get vaccinated. It protects you, but it also creates a cocoon around people who can’t be vaccinated, thereby protecting them.