Scared of vaccines? Maybe you should be scared of measles instead

Some people have concerns that disorders on the autism spectrum might be linked to vaccines. Now we’re getting personal — at least for me.

In January 2019, 79 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 10 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The states that have reported cases to CDC are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

In a given year, the CDC says, more measles cases can occur for any of the following reasons:

  • An increase in the number of travelers who get measles abroad and bring it into the U.S., and/or
  • Further spread of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that measles was at an all-time low in 2016. In 2000, the CDC considered measles eliminated in the United States.

Vaccination recommendations

After a measles outbreak in 2017, Kentucky health officials recommended measles vaccinations for children and some adults to prevent a similar situation close to home.

“Measles is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death,” said Sally J. Wheeler, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Clarksville. “It spreads very easily among those who aren’t vaccinated  — just being in the same room with someone who has measles can get you infected.”

If you have questions about measles or to schedule a vaccination, contact a Primary care provider or pediatrician.

Recommendations for vaccines include:

  • All children ages 12 months and older who have not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine should get the first dose as soon as possible. A second MMR dose is routinely recommended between age 4 and 6 but can be given as soon as 28 days after the first dose.
  • Adults born during and after 1957 who have never received an MMR vaccine and never had a medical provider indicate they were immune to measles should get the vaccine as soon as possible. Adults attending college or working in a health care setting should receive two MMR doses at least 28 days apart.
  • Children 12 months and older and adults planning to travel internationally should receive two MMR doses at least 28 days apart. Infants should receive one dose of MMR before leaving the U.S.

Measles symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • Rash

So what happened? Much of the resurgence can be traced back to a lack of vaccinations, according to the CDC and WHO. In some cases, people had concerns that disorders on the autism spectrum might be linked to the vaccines children receive.

Now we’re getting personal — at least for me. My son, Glen, has Asperger syndrome, which is a disorder on the autism spectrum.

Autism and autism spectrum disorder are a group of complex disorders that affect brain development. They are characterized by difficulties in communication, social interaction and repetitive behavior patterns.

Autism is being diagnosed more now than in previous decades, according to Stephen K. Johnson, M.D., a pediatrician with Norton Children’s  Medical Group – Springhurst.

According to Dr. Johnson, debate remains on whether this increase is because there are more children with autism, changes in diagnostic criteria, more frequent autism screening, physicians’ increased familiarity with the signs of autism or a combination of all of these factors.

Increasing evidence suggests genetic factors and brain abnormalities are responsible for the development of autism.

It is not, he said, because of vaccinations.

One study – using fraudulent data – claimed an autism-vaccine link

“Although a 1998 study suggested that vaccines cause autism, the study and its author have been discredited after the results were found to be based on fraudulent data,” Dr. Johnson said. “Since that time, hundreds of well-designed studies involving over a million children have been conducted without finding any support for the idea that autism is caused by vaccines.”

I field the question about autism and vaccines a lot.

My answer is a little less scientific than Dr. Johnson’s: I say it doesn’t matter.

Yes, I know. In reality, it does matter. But does it matter to me? No. Does it matter to my son, Glen? No.

During a discussion about vaccines, Glen asked me if he was sick, and why someone would risk a serious illness because they feared becoming like him.

These are some great questions. I can only answer them for me. Vaccinations did not cause his autism.

But more important, it is part of what makes my son who he is. There is nothing wrong with him. He does not need a “cure.”

More teens still need the HPV vaccine

What vaccines do teens need?

In our family, we accept Glen for who he is and focus on his strengths rather than the why of a situation I cannot and would not change. I would rather work through ways to help him be successful. I found that advocating in school for services and appropriate class placement served me better than advocating for a cure or a change in vaccine policies.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

If you have concerns about vaccines or autism, be sure to talk with your pediatrician. If you don’t have a pediatrician or family doctor, we can help you.

The strategy worked for us. Glen graduated from college cum laude in four years with a degree in communications. He has a job he loves as a reporter for a community newspaper. He is kind, he is honest, he is hard-working and responsible. He is awesome.

Vaccinations shouldn’t scare you. But the return of measles should.  Measles can be a serious disease.

  • As many as one out of every 20 children with measles will get pneumonia, which is the most common cause of measles-related deaths.
  • About one child out of every 1,000 diagnosed with get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
  • For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
  • Children also can develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis seven to 10 years after getting measles. This infection is a fatal, progressive, degenerative disease of the central nervous system.