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Measles on Upswing Despite Vaccine

Vaccination has saved thousands of lives, report says, but outbreaks occurring as some people opt out

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Schuchat noted that over the last 20 years, for measles alone, vaccination had prevented about 71 million cases and almost 9 million hospitalizations. "It's extraordinary what we are able to achieve with vaccinating, compared with not vaccinating, she said.

One expert not involved with the report said that people forget how bad measles was before there was a vaccine.

"Measles caused about 3 million cases a year in the United States before there was a vaccine in 1963," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"It would cause 48,000 hospitalizations and about 500 deaths," Offit said. "Nobody had to be convinced to get a measles vaccine."

Now measles is reappearing because people are making a choice not to get vaccinated, Offit said. "They are choosing not to get it because they don't fear the disease," he said.

Offit thinks this may be a natural outcome of a vaccine program. The disease is conquered, the disease is forgotten, people don't get vaccinated, and the disease comes back. "This is just going to be the pattern until the sun burns out," he said.

It will take more measles hospitalizations and maybe a death or two to convince people not to opt out of vaccinating their children, Offit said. "It has to get to a level of consciousness that you realize that not getting vaccinated means it might be you or your child who gets hospitalized or dies," he said.

According to the CDC, the side effects of the vaccine are minor -- including pain and redness at the injection site, headache, fatigue or a vague feeling of discomfort -- all of which go away quickly.

Because measles is so contagious, the CDC recommends people of all ages keep up to date with their vaccinations. The agency recommends two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for everyone, starting at age 12 months. In addition, infants aged 6 through 11 months should receive one dose of MMR vaccine before traveling out of the country, the agency says.

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