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Measles in US Becomes Medical, Scientific, Political Issue

  • Carol Pearson

The outbreak of measles in the United States — more than 100 cases so far — has just about everyone weighing in, from public health officials to parents to doctors and even the president himself.

Health officials are adamant. They say vaccines work and are safe. Top U.S. doctors are urging parents to have their children immunized. Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made similar remarks recently on This Week, an ABC-TV news program.

"The more kids who are not vaccinated," he said, "the more they are at risk and the more they are putting their neighbor's kids at risk as well."

In Chicago Thursday, five infants at a suburban child care center were diagnosed with measles.

All of the cases involve children younger than 1 who are too young for routine measles vaccination. Officials said none of the infants has been hospitalized. All are being cared for at home, they said.

Across the country, parents like Colorado mother Barbara Acosta defend their right not to vaccinate their children.

"I think every parent has a right to choose what's in the best interest of their children," she said.

Some politicians agree. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and a trained ophthalmologist, recently mentioned stories he had heard that link vaccines to mental disorders.

"I've heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children," he said, "who wound up with profound mental disorders after normal vaccine."

Fears about vaccine

In Colorado, Acosta chose not to vaccinate her children and has no intention of vaccinating her grandchildren because of her concerns. She said, "Some kids have such adverse effects. If you go online and you read, there are horrific stories."

Yet, studies show vaccines can save lives and that side effects are rare and minor. Dr. Linda Fu, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Children’s National Health System in Washington, said, "The most common side effects to any of the vaccines are pain at the injection site and fever for 24 to 48 hours."

Fu says the minor and temporary side effects of the vaccine outweigh the risk of complications from measles, which can include ear infections, permanent deafness, brain inflammation, permanent brain damage, pneumonia and death.

At one time, parents were concerned about preservatives added to vaccines. Fu says that is no longer a concern. "The vaccines that the children are getting today are very much more pure and are safe and effective," she told VOA.

Most doctors practicing today have never seen a case of measles, including Fu. That's because a vaccine against measles has been available since 1963. The vaccine is 99 percent effective if a child receives two doses. The first vaccine is usually given when a child is 2 years old, and a booster at age 4.

Measles was eradicated in the United States in the year 2000. Since then, all outbreaks can be traced to infections contracted outside the U.S. or to visitors from other countries who come to the U.S. with a case of measles.

Even President Barack Obama weighed in. During an interview with NBC News, he urged parents to get their children vaccinated.