Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion piece. I am not a doctor. This article is not intended to be medical advice.
At this point, every parent in the United States has heard: There is an outbreak of measles happening in relationship to Disneyland. Anytime there is an "outbreak" of any disease for which a vaccine exists, the internet breaks. The media covers the story round the clock. "Health experts" urge everyone to vaccinate. Even parents who had been delaying or avoiding the vaccine for various reasons start to second guess themselves. People's claws and fangs come out and people start breaking up friendships and family reunions over others' vaccination statuses. Some people are even threatening to sue.
What do I think parents really need to be doing in response?
Calming the F down.
(I helped you out and kept this safe for work)
I get it. You're going all mama bear because you perceive a threat to your cubs. Measles is something that not very many people in our generation have experience with, so it's really scary. It's understandable. People often fear things they do not understand.
Let's review some facts, shall we?
On average, less than 100 people get the measles each year in the United States.(source) Last year was a record breaking year when 644 cases were reported.(source)
Even though people have been getting sick, it's really really important to note that nobody has died from the measles in the USA in the last 10 years - This is despite several "record breaking" outbreaks, not dissimilar from the one happening now.(source)
So....should we get the shot?
This is the thing: while your chances of getting the measles is about 1 in 478,000, your chances of having a severe complication from the MMR vaccine are pretty similar - about 1 in 500,000 who receive the MMR vaccine will experience a severe reaction including deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness or permanent brain damage. This is according to the CDC's own data - not some crazy anti-vaccine website.(source)
So it's better to get the shot?
Not so fast.
While your chances of catching measles and having a bad reaction to the MMR vaccine are pretty similar, your chances of recovering fully from measles is 99.99%(source).
Your chances or recovering from a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine? Let's just say they aren't so good.
Since 1988, there have been 96 deaths in the USA caused by the MMR vaccine. Compared to just 2 from measles.(source) I think I'll take my chances with the measles.
Chances of severe complication from
MMR vaccine vs. Wild measles
1 in 500,000 vs 1 in 956 million
Already vaccinated? You especially do not need to panic. A single dose of the MMR vaccine prevents transmission of measles 95% of the time.(source) So while I'm not personally vaccinating my kids with the MMR, chances of your kids getting it are really really low. I'm not disagreeing that the MMR vaccine is effective at preventing measles. I AM saying that statistically, the risks of having a complication from the vaccine are much higher than the risk of complication from measles.
So what should you do?
In the same way that you should not go swimming during a thunderstorm, you probably want to exercise some caution. Is someone in your family immune compromised? They might want to postpone their trip to Disneyland. And really, if they are severely compromised, they should probably avoid large crowds of people during illness season from November-May each year anyway (some like to call it "flu season" but the truth is that everything is going around during this time - not just the flu).
And by all means: if you come down with symptoms of measles (high fever, cough, runny nose, rash) STAY HOME and away from people until you are well again.
In the meantime, keep calm, go about your day and stop breaking up with your friends whose kids aren't vaccinated.
For further reading see: Why We Said No to the Measles Vaccine
Author's note: Whenever I talk about reasons not to vaccinate for measles, people start asking "well what about mumps and rubella?" (the other diseases targeted by the MMR). You can read my thoughts on mumps here. Rubella is generally only a threat to pregnant women who lack immunity to it. If you are a female thinking about having children and you do not have immunity to Rubella, you may want to consider the vaccine together with your primary care provider.
Carissa used to think that people who didn't vaccinate their kids or who ate organic food were elitist hippies. After the birth of her son in 2010, she and her husband used their research backgrounds to learn more about ways in improve and maintain health in children and as a result chose to selectively vaccinate their son, moved to an organic whole foods diet and stopped using plastic in their kitchen. To learn more about some of the changes they made on their journey toward better health, check out her posts on health & beauty.