Could There Be a Measles Outbreak in Colorado?

I remember getting vaccines at school when I was a kid – I think I was around 6 years old. We were lined up and walked to the gym or cafeteria where a vaccination station was set up. We walked through one by one and received a sugar cube with medicine (I believe for polio vaccine) and a shot in the left arm from an automatic injector device (probably Measles, Mumps, and Rubella).

Those were the days – I was born in 1965. However, if memory serves me right, I still got the measles, mumps and chicken pox too. Fortunately, I suffered no lasting effects from these childhood viruses, except for a few chicken pox scars because I couldn’t stop scratching them.

Because of programs like the one I remember, vaccination rates increased, and measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  But currently, in 2019, the CDC reports over 760 cases of measles – the highest number in 25 years.

Before the virus was eliminated and before vaccinations became routine in 1963 it infected millions of people each year and was responsible for hundreds of deaths. The CDC says that until that point, every year 3 to 4 million people were infected, 48,000 of them went to the hospital and 400 to 500 people died.

According to Nikki Price, Registered Pharmacist and Director of Pharmacy Operations at Albertsons/Safeway, the reason for the recent outbreak of measles is the lower vaccination rates coupled with international travel. Unvaccinated people travel to other countries where measles is common and unknowingly bring the virus back to the United States where they can infect other unvaccinated people. This way of spreading measles is exacerbated because the virus may have no symptoms for 10 days so you would not know you had the measles but meanwhile it is very contagious during that time.

In fact, “measles is the most highly contagious virus that is preventable by vaccine,” Price says. “90% of people exposed to measles who do not immunity will contract the illness.”

Currently, the US has a 90% vaccination rate, but Colorado is one of the lowest at 87%. Price says that to prevent an outbreak, there needs to be a 95% vaccination rate, making Colorado prime for an outbreak. According to a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, Denver county is 16th on the list of top 25 US Counties predicted to be at the highest risk for measles in 2019.

Price says the main reasons people do not get vaccinated are due to concerns about the safety of vaccines. These concerns have been debunked. “The vaccine is approved by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) and they have been proven to be safe,” Price says. “Side effects from the vaccination are rare and mild if they occur. You may have a runny nose, fever for a few days while your body is building its immunity.” Some people may have philosophical or religious reasons for not getting vaccinated.

For those of us who got vaccinated as children and may not remember what vaccine we got, Price says consider getting re-vaccinated. Price says that people born before 1957 have natural immunity, but if you were born between 1963-69, you may have gotten a different vaccine and should consider getting re-vaccinated (that’s me). You can test your immunity by going to your health care provider, but Price says that oftentimes it’s easier to get re-vaccinated and there is no harm if you already have immunity.

Parents can have their children vaccinated with the 2-dose treatment. The first dose between 12-15 months and the second between ages 4-6 years old. Price recommends keeping children who are too young to be vaccinated away from people who may have been exposed to measles. One of the benefits of vaccination is that it helps protect young children and other vulnerable populations from the virus.

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