An Electron Micrograph of the Measles Virus

An Electron Micrograph of the Measles Virus

Why You Shouldn’t Fear the MMR Shot!

It was a Wednesday. Maggie had just been discharged from Phoenix Children’s Hospital after finishing her latest round of chemotherapy. That afternoon she went to the PCH East Valley Specialty Clinic for a lab draw. Everything went fine, and we were feeling good…until Sunday evening when we got the call. On Wednesday afternoon […] Maggie and Eli had been exposed to measles by another patient. Our two kids lacked the immunity to defend against measles. The only protection available was multiple shots of rubeola immune globulin (measles antibodies). There were three shots for Maggie and two shots for Eli. They screamed, but they now have some temporary protection against measles. We pray it is enough,” wrote Dr. Tim Jacks, a parent and a board certified pediatrician.

His post, an open letter to parents who choose to not vaccinate their children, went viral on Facebook and received national attention.

Measles is a respiratory disease that produces fever, runny nose, cough, and a full body rash. It is a serious disease and it can be life threatening even with the best care, the CDC says. Although this disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 (thanks to routine childhood immunizations), measles is making a comeback. In 2014, the U.S. saw the highest number of cases in two decades. The majority of patients recover after a few weeks of miserable symptoms. Malnourished individuals or patients with weakened immune systems like Maggie, however, can have serious complications.
“Instead of a break [from chemo], we get to watch for measles symptoms and pray for no fevers (or back to the hospital we go). Thanks for making us cancel our trip to the snow this year. Maggie really wanted to see snow, but we will not risk exposing anyone else,” Dr. Jacks wrote back in January.

Measles cases do pop-up in the U.S. today. They are (were?) rare. So why are we now seeing outbreaks of this “old-fashioned disease”? Public health officials blame the anti-vaccination movement.

Although The Lancet journal retracted the 1998 study that suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism in children, “anti-vaxxers” still exist. These parents choose to forego all recommended childhood immunizations.

The CDC stands firm that no evidence exists to support the claim that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine (or any other common vaccine) is linked to autism. The benefits of getting this vaccine far outweigh any potential risks, the CDC states. Despite experts’ claims, some parents still fear vaccines. And we are now seeing the side effects.

Between January 1 and April 10, there were 159 reported measles cases in 18 states and the District of Columbia. For a rare disease, these numbers are troubling. Infants too young to receive the MMR vaccine, children who have received just the first dose, and children like Maggie who have lower immunity, depend on a vaccinated population for protection. If everyone around them is immune to contagious, potentially life-threatening diseases, they act as a protective shield.

Thankfully, the recent measles outbreak that began at Disneyland was declared over in California back in April. Florida has seen measles cases pop-up, but they have been few and have mostly involved visitors to the state. This is still concerning, especially in Central Florida where millions of people make the pilgrimage to our famous theme parks.

Dr. John Armstrong

Dr. John Armstrong

Style Magazines interviewed Dr. John Armstrong, State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health, on his thoughts and advice concerning the recent measles outbreak:

Style Magazines: What are your thoughts on the recent measles outbreak in North America?

Dr. John Armstrong: The recent measles outbreak, unfortunately, shows the nation’s vulnerability to vaccine-preventable diseases as we are faced with increasing pockets of unvaccinated people in our communities. The best way to protect yourself, and others, from diseases like measles remains through vaccination, which is readily available at little to no cost through your local county health department or primary care health professional.

SM: In recent years, has there been an increase in the number of Florida parents who choose to not vaccinate their children? If so, why?

DJA: Florida allows medical/religious exemptions to provide children with medical issues/religious practices an opportunity to attend school. Ninety-three percent of kindergarteners and 97 percent of seventh-grade students in Florida have been vaccinated. Given [this data], a very small percentage of Florida parents choose not to vaccinate their children. Over the last three years (2012-2014) the rate of religious exemptions has increased by approximately 20 percent. However, this affects a very small percentage of children compared to the overall population.

SM: Some parents choose to delay certain vaccines and follow an alternative administration schedule in order to minimize potential adverse effects. Is this alternative (i.e., the Sears Schedule) a good idea?

DJA: The recommended immunization schedule is designed to protect infants and children early in life, when they are most vulnerable and before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. Altering the standard immunization schedule is not recommended. The Florida Department of Health’s goal is to ensure all children who can be vaccinated complete their immunization schedule on time.

SM: What is your advice to parents?

DJA: Parents have the power to protect their children through immunizations. Vaccinating children will give them a chance to fight diseases that may have serious consequences, as well as to provide protection for children with medical conditions who cannot be immunized. My advice: provide your children with safe and long-lasting protection against diseases by making sure they get the CDC recommended vaccines like the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine according to recommended immunization schedules.

SM: What actions has the Florida Department of Health taken to safeguard individuals (especially individuals who cannot receive immunizations) from the spread of resurging infectious diseases?

DJA: The Florida Department of Health continues working closely with healthcare providers and community partners to promptly identify cases of infectious disease and situations that may pose a threat to our community. We are continually reviewing our surveillance systems to quickly detect cases of disease and to recognize disease patterns that require action. Being able to detect disease patterns allows us to provide early warning, reach out quickly to these patients and their providers, and design interventions around those that are not immune. In addition, the Florida Department of Health continues to develop effective tools to communicate with the public and with providers in a timely manner. This rapid communication works to decrease any potential risks to the public’s health.

SM: What specific actions should people take to avoid becoming sick with community-wide viral infections?

DJA: Wash your hands often, keep your hands away from your nose and mouth, and stay home when you are sick to prevent the spread of illness.

For more information on the MMR vaccine, click here.