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Parents needs to make sure children get vaccinated according to the recommended schedule
Dear Dr. Wong: I got measles when I was 16. One of my classmates went to Europe and brought the virus back to school. I was never vaccinated and got very sick.
My parents didn’t believe in vaccination; they thought it was unnecessary. Now, I am the mother of two children, one and three years of age. They never received any vaccine either; I guess I am still being influenced by my parents’ opinion.
My husband is urging me to get them vaccinated; he is worried that they can get sick with germs that are preventable through vaccination. I heard that some schools are not allowing students to attend if they didn’t get measles vaccine. Is there any proof that measles vaccine is useful and safe?
Answer. Yes, the measles vaccine is effective and safe. In fact, all vaccines available for children in this country are necessary to protect them from infections that are serious and sometimes fatal. Let me explain to you in more detail here.
We are surrounded by germs all the time, both bacteria and viruses. From the moment of birth, these germs try to gain access to our body and cause infections. When we have a cut, germs on the skin enter our tissues and blood. Our body’s immune system isolates the germs locally and sends white blood cells to kill these bacteria. We can recover from most minor wounds without the need of antibiotics.
At the same time, our immune system can recognize the germs and produce antibodies against them. These involve memory cells and antibody-producing cells of the immune system. They allow the body to fight the same germs faster and more effectively the next time around. The same is true for viruses. We have memory cells and antibody-producing cells that can fight viruses that have infected us, even many years ago. This part of our immune system is very important for our health and survival.
Measles is a unique virus. In addition to causing fever and rash, it infects many organs in the body. It also infects our immune system, destroying memory cells as well as antibody-producing cells.
A recent research publication in the journal Science documented the serious harm of the measles virus. Unvaccinated children infected with measles virus lost a great deal of their memory cells and antibody-producing cells in their immune system. As a result, when they encountered bacteria and viruses that have infected them before, they have no ability to respond quickly and effectively; they have to fight these infections all over again.
This explains the long-standing observation that measles infection weakens our immune system. Many children die within a few years after they have recovered from measles infection; they die from other infections that they are normally able to fight. Pneumonia is a common complication of measles that kills many children in countries that don’t have a good health-care system like Canada.
Measles vaccine was one of the earliest vaccines developed by scientists half a century ago; it is also one of the safest vaccines that we have. The measles virus was “tamed” in the laboratory. After vaccination, it causes a mild infection and induces both memory and antibodies against the measles virus.
Measles vaccine is now given as part of the MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) vaccine. In addition to preventing measles infection, it prevents a person from a weakening of the immune system and other serious infections. The benefit of the measles vaccine is far greater than preventing measles alone.
Vaccines are tested extensively to make sure that they are effective and safe. There can be mild side effects, especially local pain and fever. There is also ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety and efficacy by Health Canada.
I hope you have a better understanding of the importance of measles vaccine and its benefits. Actually, all vaccines that the government recommends are important and safe; different vaccines protect us in different ways. Our government spends a lot of money on vaccination to keep us safe and healthy. We should make sure that our children get vaccinated according to the recommended schedule.
Dr David Wong is a retired pediatrician in Summerside and recipient of 2012 Distinguished Community Paediatrician Award of Canadian Paediatric Society. His columns will appear in the Guardian every month. A collection of his previous columns is at askdrwong.ca. If you have a question for Dr. Wong, mail it to Prince County Hospital, 65 Roy Boates Ave, Summerside, P.E.I. C1N2A9.