Measles is one of the most contagious respiratory diseases in the world that has the potential to be life-threatening. It is caused by a virus and is still common in many countries.
There are FDA-approved vaccines that provide lasting protection against measles that are proven both safe and effective. Most people who get the recommended two doses of the vaccine will never get sick with measles, even if they’re exposed to the virus.
Still, outbreaks in the U.S. continue to occur. One main reason is because of unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus abroad and bring it into the U.S. Another is because of the spread of measles in communities that include unvaccinated individuals.
According to the CDC, before the U.S. measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 million to 4 million people nationwide got measles each year. Of those, 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis because of measles. In the U.S., widespread use of the vaccine has led to a 99 percent reduction in measles cases compared with before the vaccination program began.
We can reduce the risk of measles with the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Virus Vaccine Live (M-M-R II, commonly called MMR) approved by the FDA for use in people ages 12 months and older. Just two doses of the vaccine is about 97 percent effective at preventing measles, and one dose is about 93 percent effective. Children ages 1 through 12 years may also get the Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Varicella Virus Vaccine Live (MMRV). This FDA-approved vaccine also prevents chickenpox.
The measles vaccines are among the most extensively studied medical products. The safety of both vaccines has been firmly established over many years in some of the largest vaccine studies ever undertaken. Before the vaccines’ approval, clinical data developed through animal studies and human clinical trials were evaluated by FDA scientists and clinicians.
In addition, the FDA pays careful attention in reviewing the quality of raw materials and other ingredients used to make vaccines, the production process, and the procedure for assessing their safety and efficacy. Like many medical products, measles vaccines have known potential side effects, but they are generally mild and short-lived, such as rash and fever.
The bottom line is that there are safe and effective vaccines that provide lasting protection against the measles virus. Both contain live, but weakened versions of the measles virus, which causes your immune system to produce antibodies against the virus without causing you to contract the illness. Should you be exposed to actual measles, those antibodies will protect you against the disease.