What adults should know about the measles vaccine as disease makes a comeback

  • Most adults in the U.S. have received the MMR vaccine, shown here waiting in a cooler March 27. But some might need a booster shot.

    Most adults in the U.S. have received the MMR vaccine, shown here waiting in a cooler March 27. But some might need a booster shot. Associated Press

Updated 5/8/2019 6:23 AM

Your child or grandchild is immunized for measles, but what about you?

If you can't remember getting the MMR vaccine or were inoculated in the 1960s, here's what you need to do to stay healthy as cases of the disease mount in the U.S.


Q. Do I need a measles vaccine if I'm an adult?

A. Everyone needs a measles vaccine to prevent catching the potentially fatal illness, the Centers for Disease Control says, unless you were born before 1957.

The U.S. began immunizing people in 1963 -- so chances are, you're covered.

Q. Is there a but?

A. Yes. One early version of the vaccine offered from 1963 to 1968 was ineffective. Less than 1 million people received the flawed vaccine, according to the CDC.

If you number among that group, you can check with your doctor about getting vaccinated. If you aren't certain and can't obtain decades-old medical records, a doctor can do a blood test to see if you're immune. Or you can simply get the shot, since there is no shortage of vaccine.

Q. Kids today get two MMR shots (covering measles, mumps and rubella). I'm an adult and only had one. Am I at risk of contracting measles?

A. After a measles outbreak in 1989, two doses of vaccine became standard practice across the U.S. One dose of vaccine is proven to be 93 percent effective. Two doses offers a 97 percent effectiveness rate.

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The CDC says "certain adults may need two doses." That includes college and university students, health care workers, international travelers, and people at an increased risk for contracting the virus.

"We're not recommending everyone go in and get a second MMR vaccine or get tested. It's probably not needed," Edward Hospital physician and infectious disease specialist Jonathan Pinsky said Tuesday.

"(In the U.S.) it's unusual to find someone who is not immunized."

Q. Why are people born before 1957 exempt from getting a shot?

A. The measles virus was so predominant before the vaccine that most of the U.S. population was infected.

Surviving an infection builds up antibodies to prevent catching the measles again and "this is a particularly durable antibody.

It will stay in your body forever," said pediatrician Michael Caplan, co-chief medical officer for Advocate Northshore Pediatric Partnership.

There are 764 cases of measles in the U.S. as of May 3, the CDC reports, a spike of 60 from the previous week. It's the largest number since 1994 and includes seven cases in Illinois.

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