RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you got your measles vaccine as a kid, do you need to be revaccinated as an adult? It's an important question that's coming up as health officials now scramble to contain the measles outbreaks across the country. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The measles vaccine is incredibly safe and effective, but it wasn't always that way. Many people born in the 1960s who received an early version got a vaccine made from an inactivated virus. And Vanderbilt University's William Schaffner says this didn't work so well.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: It turned out to be a very weak and sometimes even harmful vaccine.
AUBREY: This vaccine was given between 1963 and 1967. And for people who got it, the CDC recommends that you talk to your doctor about getting revaccinated with the current, live measles, mumps and rubella vaccine known as the MMR. The CDC says even if you're not sure whether you have protection against measles or got the ineffective vaccine back in the '60s, you can opt to get a dose of the MMR vaccine. William Schaffner says there's no downside to getting revaccinated.
SCHAFFNER: Even if you're protected, it won't help much, but it won't harm you. And if you happen to be susceptible, it will give you over 90% protection.
AUBREY: And this advice also applies to people born between 1957 and the early 1960s, who may not have been vaccinated at all as children. Schaffner says, it's not a blanket recommendation, but it may be a good idea for people who live in communities where cases of measles have been reported or for those traveling to other countries that have measles, including countries in Europe.
SCHAFFNER: Brazil, Israel, Japan, the Philippines - if you're traveling to any of those places and you're at all uncertain about your measles protection, get vaccinated because if you get measles as an adult, you're much more likely to get the complications.
AUBREY: And this includes pneumonia as well as encephalitis, or brain swelling. Now, people born before 1957 are considered to be protected against measles. That's because the virus was so widespread nearly everyone was exposed.
So far this year, measles has been documented in more than a third of states in the U.S. Most of the illnesses occur in children. It can start with a runny nose, a cough. And when it gets worse...
SCHAFFNER: You feel miserable. You have aches and pains. You have high fever.
AUBREY: The hundreds of measles cases reported in the U.S. this year pales in comparison to the 1950s. Before there was a vaccine, the CDC says 3 to 4 million people each year got measles. Schaffner says we don't want to turn back the clock. That's why it's so important for parents to vaccinate their children, which the CDC says is the most effective way to prevent the disease.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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