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My usual routine at the end of a well-child visit is to discuss vaccines.  Today was a little different though, not because I had to discuss the MMR and varicella vaccines, but because of the conversation I had about measles and the valuable reminder as to why we vaccinate… I was fortunate to not only have mom at the visit, but grandma as well, who knew firsthand how devastating measles can be because she herself had measles as a child and is almost blind today as a result.  She couldn’t believe that parents today actually choose not to vaccinate.  She was unlucky to be a child before there was a vaccine available to protect her from measles.

In the United States, routine vaccination against measles began in 1963.  Prior to that time, each year there were about 500,000 cases of measles and 500 deaths attributed to measles in the U.S.  Since the vaccine became available, the rate of measles in the U.S. has remained fairly low.  Last year, however, there were 222 cases — that’s over three times the typical number seen in a year.

Measles is now resurging worldwide, and kills an estimated 164,000 kids every year, or about 450 each day. Most cases of measles in the U.S. are brought here by foreign travelers, finding their way to a unimmunized or under-immunized population. Measles is still endemic in developing countries, but the big surprise is the recent large-scale outbreak in Western Europe.

Last year, there were close to 14,000 cases of measles in France, 4,300 cases in Italy, 1,637 cases in Spain, 1,480 cases in Germany, 854 cases in England, and 742 cases in Canada.  These numbers remind us that measles is a very real disease and could make a big resurgence in the U.S. if we let it.

The primary reason for the increased transmission and outbreaks is failure to vaccinate. These unvaccinated people then put themselves and others at risk for measles and its complications.

Don’t be fooled –measles did not go away, instead we just became very good at immunizing our children. Unfortunately, false claims and fear about the vaccine have led to more unimmunized children. The false assertion that we don’t need to vaccinate because measles and other childhood diseases don’t really exist has also led to a reduction in vaccination rates. It’s ironic that our progress in eradicating disease through vaccination could lead to its resurgence. It is the older population who understands; they experienced disease firsthand. They saw family members die, become disabled or suffer to live today with some disability from a childhood disease. Eventually their stories will go away.

The progress of health should not be hindered by fear or false observation. Please remember there was a time when there was no vaccine for measles, and hundreds of otherwise healthy children  died every year. That time should be long gone. Make sure to vaccinate your child, not just against measles, but all preventable childhood diseases.

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