Do You Need a Measles Vaccine?

Posted on May 5, 2019 by Nicklaus McMellon, PharmD

If you have watched the news recently, you have probably heard about the recent outbreaks of measles in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention share that there have been 626 individual cases in 2019, diagnosed between January 1 and April 19. There are several states experiencing outbreaks, which are defined as 3 or more cases. The CDC is linking these outbreaks to travelers who brought the disease back from other countries, and these outbreaks have led many people to question if they need to get a measles vaccine. In response to this, the CDC is clear: The majority of people who have gotten measles were unvaccinated.

The virus that causes measles is contagious and can be transmitted by direct contact with infectious droplets, or through the air when a person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. The virus can remain infectious in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area. Since the virus is so contagious, it is important for people who can receive the vaccine to do so, so that people who cannot be vaccinated can remain protected by herd immunity. The vaccine against measles is commonly administered in a combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The CDC states that the following groups should be vaccinated:

  • Children, as a routine childhood immunization
  • People traveling internationally without evidence of immunity
  • Those without evidence of immunity against measles, including students going to postsecondary educational institutions and adults born during or after 1957

There are several ways to determine whether or not someone has immunity against measles: written documentation of vaccination, a laboratory test showing evidence of immunity or confirming that they have had measles, or a date of birth before 1957.

A medical professional is needed to formally diagnose the disease, but some common symptoms are as follows: fever, a general feeling of not being well, conjunctivitis, cough, and coryza (which can be described as a stuffy nose or head cold), and a specific type of rash called a maculopapular rash2. It is important to remember that some people may present symptoms differently than others. If you are concerned that you have measles or are questioning whether or not you are immune, you should contact your medical provider.