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Do You Need a Measles Booster?

Measles is making headlines across the United States. The number of cases has hit a 50-year high, and the disease, which was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, has been reported in 22 states. The question of whether measles will touch every state is no longer a question of if, but when. "Now is the time for everyone to make sure they are protected against measles," said Andrew Pavia, MD, the head of pediatric infectious diseases for University of Utah Health.

The current recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that everyone receive the measles vaccine in childhood. The first dose is given between the ages of 12 and 15 months, followed by a second dose given around the age of 4 to 5, or prior to entering school. "The two doses together provide 97 or 98 percent immunity," Pavia said. "This immunity should be life long."

While the second dose usually isn't given until school age, that does not mean you have to wait. If your child has had the first dose, and it has been more than 28 days since they received it, the second dose can be given now in order to provide full immunity. This will still count towards school vaccine requirements. It is especially important to do this if you will be traveling with your child any time soon.

"If you are traveling anywhere in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, you need to make sure your child is protected," Pavia said. "This is also the case if you are traveling anywhere in the U.S. where measles has been reported, like New York, Michigan, Georgia, or California." You may also want to have a health care professional provide a dose of vaccine to a child 6-11 months old who is likely to be exposed. However, vaccines given before 12 months of age do not provide lasting immunity, and the child will still need two doses after their 1st birthday.

Children under the age of 5 are not the only ones who should be concerned about immunity. Adults who were vaccinated before the current schedule was in place also may be at risk. Between 1962 and 1967, the vaccine that was substantially less effective than the current vaccine. People who received this vaccine and who have not received a measles booster since then should consider being revaccinated.

People who received the vaccine between 1967 and 1989 also should check their measles immunity. During this period, the effective live measles virus was used, but it was only given once. "There are many who would have gotten two doses, though," Pavia said. "Many schools, colleges, and universities required students to get a second dose before they enrolled. People in the military and those who work in health care also may have had to get a second measles dose."

You can find out if you need a measles booster by checking your vaccination record. Look for a small, tri-folded piece of yellow paper in your files listing all the vaccines you have been given in your lifetime. If you don't have a vaccination record, your primary care physician may have one on file. "If you don't have access to your records, you can get a measles antibody blood test," Pavia said. "If antibodies to measles are present, that means you have immunity."

Making sure you are properly vaccinated against measles is important for your health—and the health of your community. Some people cannot receive the measles vaccine because of allergies or immunosuppressive medications; therefore, they depend on those who can to keep the virus at bay. "Infants under 12 months of age, pregnant women, and people who are immunocompromised can't get the vaccine," Pavia said. "They are depending on those who can be vaccinated to protect them."