Fort Worth, Texas,
10:04 PM

‘Vaccines Are Safe and Effective’

What doctors want parents to know as more opt out of immunizations for their children

As health experts warn that vaccine hesitancy and misinformation has caused a surge in highly contagious diseases, a congressional hearing took place on Capitol Hill today to look at “a growing public health threat” of measles cases in the United States.

But some lawmakers in Texas want to make it easier for parents to request vaccine exemptions. A bill in the state’s legislature would allow parents to opt out of vaccinations.

This is a cause for concern for public health official who track disease outbreaks. They worry it would make it more difficult for parents of immunocompromised children to have accurate information about the number of kids who aren’t immunized. People who are immune suppressed have a higher risk for the deadlier complications of measles infection such as encephalitis and pneumonia.

Texas already has one of the highest rates of unvaccinated children in the U.S., partly due to a 2003 state law allowing parents to opt out of getting their children immunized for medical reasons or conscientious and religious beliefs.

“The anti-vaccine movement and the legislators they support are pursuing policies that will increase risk of serious disease and death for the most vulnerable Texans among us,” said Jason Terk, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician in Keller and one of the nation’s leading advocates for immunization.

Dr. Terk said “the best course of action is to make sure that all persons in close contact with babies less than 6 months of age are properly vaccinated against measles and to avoid situations where larger groups of unvaccinated people are likely to be.”

The CDC now recommends that babies between 6-12 month who will be traveling to countries with measles outbreaks receive an MMR vaccine to provide short-term protection. This does not count toward the recommended two dose series that starts at 12 months of age. So far, the recommendation has not been extended to the circumstances that are occurring in certain parts of the US.

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000 thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States. Mumps cases decreased 99 percent after the introduction of a successful strategy for vaccination.

But as the vaccine by choice movement has grown so has the number of measles, mumps and rubella cases in the United States.

USA Today reports that “before the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was available in America, about 450 to 500 people died from measles each year.” 

Despite the effectiveness of the vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the amount of people who aren’t vaccinated by 24-months old has been increasing and the World Health Organization called people choosing not to vaccinate “a global health threat” in 2019. According to the CDC, the number of unvaccinated babies and toddlers has quadrupled from 2001 and 2015.

This month in Texas at least seven cases of measles have been confirmed, including one in Denton County. Across the country, 159 individual cases have been confirmed in a total of 10 states.

This is the cause of frustration for many health care professionals because these highly contagious diseases could mostly be prevented with vaccine. However, many people decide not to receive the vaccines because of information they have found on the Internet, ignoring the majority of the leading health care organizations.

“Vaccines are safe and effective,” said Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s. “There are decades of sound scientific research to support this. We recommend that all children should be vaccinated as recommended by the American Committee on Immunization Practices schedule to help keep them safe.”

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Comments 1 - 3 (3)
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Terri Andrews
Great article and references. Those of us involved in public health and medicine thank you!
Besides theses diseases being highly contagious (as are colds, strep throat and the flu) what makes them so "deadly" and scary? With good nutrition, sanitation, and treatments of Vitamin A readily availabe why are we so scared of these particular diseases? Are they really "deadly" or just inconvenient?
Cook Children's
Thank you Lisa for your question. Measles is vastly more contagious than any other common respiratory illness that most people are familiar with. Unlike flu, cold viruses and strep which are not airborne contagions, measles virus particles are suspended in the air we breathe if a measles-infected person has been in a room we enter into. And, if a person is exposed who is not vaccinated, they have a 90% chance of getting sick with the measles.

The severity of measles is also very different than most diseases you are familiar with. At its best, measles causes high fevers and makes you feel very ill. Complication rates are higher with measles than most other diseases you are familiar with and some of those complication can be deadly.

While vitamin A is used in the treatment of measles for people who are vitamin A deficient, it does not actually treat the disease. It merely reduces the chance of severe disease in people who are vitamin A deficient. Being “sanitary” will not protect you from this disease if you are unvaccinated.