By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
In recent weeks we’ve seen an alarming outbreak of measles; a highly contagious and serious virus, especially in babies and young children who have not been vaccinated. This outbreak is particularly disturbing because measles was effectively eliminated from the United States in 2000 thanks to nearly universal vaccination, the single best way to prevent the spread of this disease.
Vaccination works with the body’s natural defenses to help it safely develop immunity to the measles. When more people are vaccinated, there are fewer opportunities for the disease to spread. A community generally needs more than ninety per cent of its members to be immunized against the virus in order to protect those who can’t be.
Today, there are two safe and effective FDA-approved vaccines. More than 95% of the people who receive a single dose will develop immunity. And a second dose conveys immunity to nearly everyone who did not respond to the first dose. Simply put, these vaccines are safe and effective, and serious side effects are rare.
Before the first measles vaccine was approved in 1963, hundreds died from the disease each year. Others developed pneumonia, lifelong brain damage or deafness.
Let’s not return to these grim statistics. There is no shortage of measles vaccine. It should be used by everyone who has not been vaccinated to prevent measles and the potentially tragic consequences of the disease.
Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is the Commissioner of Food and Drugs