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What You Need To Know About Measles Vaccine Side Effects

April 25, 2019

Concern about measles vaccine side effects is a small part of the reason for the recent outbreak of the virus. Almost all states grant exemptions for people who have religious beliefs against vaccinations. Others share personal or philosophical beliefs that keep them from getting vaccinated. But the benefits of the measles vaccine far outweigh the risk of side effects you or your child may incur.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’re experiencing the second-greatest number of cases reported in the United States since measles was eliminated in 2000. Measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. People who travel with measles continue to bring the disease into the U.S., and it spreads when it reaches a pocket of a community where a number of people are unvaccinated.

The majority of people who get measles are unvaccinated. Let’s look at the measles vaccine, when your child should be vaccinated, and why the benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the risks.

Measles Symptoms

Measles is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The first sign that you may have measles is usually a high fever. You’ll also experience typical flu and cold symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough of red eyes.

However, the definitive symptom is a rash of tiny red spots. It usually begins on your head and then spreads to the rest of your body. If you suspect you or your child might have contracted measles, or if you’d like to speak to someone about vaccine options, see your primary care physician immediately.

Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine

Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. M-M-R is a live virus vaccine for vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles).

The CDC recommends children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, with the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.

Potential Measles Vaccine Side Effects

Common side effects of the measles vaccine include:

  • Sore arm from the shot
  • Fever
  • Mild rash
  • Injection site reactions (redness, swelling, or a lump)
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Temporary loss of appetite
  • Temporary low platelet count
  • Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, mostly in teenage or adult women who did not already have immunity to the rubella component of the vaccine.

The Benefits Outweigh the Risks

According to the CDC, up to 90 percent of people who are not immune will become infected if they are exposed to the measles virus. And there are many adverse events that are tied to the virus. For instance, for every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it. Death rates from measles have plunged with vaccination, but that could change if vaccination rates decline further.

The disease can also have long-term health effects. About 10 percent of children with measles also get ear infections that can result in permanent hearing loss. As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.

What Adults Can Do

Adults can take comfort in knowing that even if you got your measles vaccination as many as 30 years ago, you’re still protected. According to the CDC, the measles component of the MMR vaccine provides lifelong protection. The mumps and rubella portions are not as long-lived. One dose of the MMR vaccine protects against measles at 93 percent efficacy (that is, 93 percent of people will receive the protective benefit of the vaccine). Two doses of the vaccine provide 96 to 97 percent efficacy. The CDC began recommending two doses of the MMR vaccine in 1989 in response to a measles outbreak in children who had been vaccinated by only a single dose.

The CDC recommends anyone born after 1957 receive a vaccine for the measles. Measles is not strictly a childhood disease and adults and teenagers should be up-to-date on their vaccination. If you do not know your vaccine status, best practices would suggest you speak with your physician about receiving the vaccine.

As you consider what’s best for you and your child, make sure you’re getting your information from a reputable source. When you choose not to vaccinate your child, you’re not only putting him or her at risk; you could be endangering your child’s friends, family and anyone else with whom your child has contact.

If you need help finding the right physician for you and your family, our guide is a great resource. You can use it to pinpoint the proper care your loved ones need.