Protect Yourself and Others: Get Vaccinated

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My hometown, Weston, Florida, is currently in the news for an active measles outbreak that, on the date of publication, has resulted in at least seven cases of the disease (1, 2, 3). Despite the recent outbreak, Florida’s Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, released a letter that goes against public health guidance and neither urges parents to vaccinate children, nor recommends that unvaccinated children stay home from the school where the outbreak is occurring (4,5). This messaging is extremely dangerous and has the potential to contribute to a widespread outbreak of the virus. 

Measles is a disease that is frequently associated with the symptoms of a skin rash, fever, sore throat, and conjunctivitis (6). Severe complications of measles are common, including pneumonia and encephalitis, and approximately 20% of unvaccinated people who are diagnosed with measles have to be hospitalized (7). Additionally, unvaccinated pregnant women who contract measles can have complications during their pregnancies (7).

Measles is highly contagious and up to 90% of unvaccinated people who have been in close contact with someone who has measles will develop the disease (8). Measles has the potential to affect many students in a school setting, for multiple reasons:

  1. Measles can be spread from one person to another before any symptoms, including the telltale rash symptom, appear (6). A person might not even know they have measles, but still be highly contagious. The current recommendation of the Florida Surgeon General for parents to make their own decisions about whether their unvaccinated children should stay home from school could lead to exposed and unvaccinated students spreading measles, even before they show any symptoms. 
  2. Measles has a long incubation period. There are no signs or symptoms of the measles virus for the first 10 to 14 days after becoming infected (6). Therefore, a person exposed to  someone with measles would require a long quarantine before they know if they have contracted measles themselves. 
  3. The measles virus can stay in the air, and be infectious, for up to two hours, even after the person with the virus leaves a room (8). This is an issue in a school setting, due to the sharing of resources such as lunch rooms and supplies used in specialized learning classrooms that the students all rotate through (such as art and PE). 

Although this sounds grim, there is hope! The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is very effective in protecting against developing measles. The vaccine is recommended for all children over the age of 12 months. After being administered the recommended two doses of the vaccine, the vaccine is about 97% effective in preventing measles (8). Also, the approximately 3% of people who get the vaccine and still end up contracting measles tend to have milder cases of the virus and are less likely to spread the virus to others than those who are unvaccinated (10)

By vaccinating approximately 95% of the population against measles, herd immunity can be reached. This would decrease the risk of developing measles for individuals who are under 12 months old and those who are unable to get the vaccine for medical or other reasons (11). Both Florida and the US as a whole need to focus on vaccinating individuals, as a CDC report estimates that approximately 90.6% of kindergarteners are vaccinated against MMR in Florida, compared to the national estimate of 93.1% (12). Both of these numbers are lower than the goal of vaccinating 95% of the population. 

Records show that before the measles vaccination, about three to four million people developed measles each year, resulting in 400 to 500 deaths annually; however due in large part to the vaccination, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000 (13). Let’s not take steps backwards.

In order to stop the spread of illness, we need to reduce misinformation in the community and consider the wider benefits of vaccinating our children against all diseases with recommended vaccinations. The higher the vaccination rate in a community, the more we are able to protect community members who cannot be vaccinated themselves, whether due to age restrictions, medical exemptions, or religious exemptions. 

For the health of our children and others in our community, we should all vaccinate our children and vote for politicians who will appoint leaders who support scientific evidence in public health decision-making and messaging. 



Jordan Kron, MPH

Research Associate