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Vaccinate against measles now, as Waikato faces an epidemic

First published as Opinion piece in stuff.co.nz by Dr Mark Sagarin, Waikato Hospital Emergency Department

On Tuesday, April 26, the Waikato Times reported on eight definite and six possible cases of measles here in Waikato.

I have been practising emergency medicine for 20 years and, fortunately, have seen few cases of measles. There is one reason for this: vaccination works. But the only way it works is when virtually everyone in a community is vaccinated. This is not the case in the Waikato. And for this reason, we are seeing a resurgence of measles, a disease that was thought to be nearly eradicated from the United States and other developed countries back in 2000.

I am writing to encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated, and if you are an adult who has never been vaccinated, to get yourself vaccinated. This is the only way to protect yourselves and the broader community against measles and other potentially deadly but preventable diseases.

If you or your children are not vaccinated, you can die or be permanently disabled by measles. If the disease does not kill you, it can cause blindness, pneumonia, or a meningitis-like syndrome. Most people with measles have a high fever and rash but are not sick enough to need to be admitted to hospital. But anyone with measles, even someone previously healthy, can develop a severe illness.

Children under five years old are the most at risk. Once the disease occurs, there is no specific drug to treat it, and there is no way to stop the virus from multiplying.

In 1980, 2.6 million people worldwide died from measles. Fortunately, as more vaccination is reaching the developing world, this number has come down to about 100,000.

Right now in the Waikato, there are probably people with measles in an early stage where there are no symptoms and we do not know how many there are, or who these people are, but they can be infectious right now. Your child might sit near or run into one of these people at school or a playground or a supermarket. If your child is not vaccinated before this contact, he or she could then have a 90 per cent chance of getting infected with measles (this is an estimate, and it depends on how closely one is in contact with the other person).

It is common for a person with measles to infect 15 or more other people. One person with measles is thought to have gone to Disneyland in California in 2015 and infected 17 people, who in turn, ultimately, infected 125 people.

Imagine how you would feel if your child wound up in hospital and disabled or even dead from a disease you could have prevented with a extremely safe, free MMR vaccine? Imagine if your child, through no fault of his own, caused or worsened an epidemic that harmed or killed other people?

Certain people – such as babies who have not had the vaccine yet and people on chemotherapy – lack immunity and are at risk of severe illness from measles. Even people who have been vaccinated can get measles, though it is many many times less likely.

When you don’t vaccinate your kids, you not only put them at risk for measles and other potentially deadly diseases, but you also put every other child at school and other people in the community at risk. Multiple very well-done studies have shown the MMR vaccine is extremely safe. It does not cause autism. Carefully done studies have completely debunked this myth. There are also no “naturopathic vaccines” or other effective ways to prevent measles.

The bottom line is this: we have a safe and very effective way for parents to ensure their kids do not get measles or several other very serious illnesses. Virtually all doctors are on board with the importance of and the safety of vaccinations. There is no reason not to vaccinate your children. We are facing the potential of a major epidemic now and in the future if we do not vaccinate our children.

Please, for the sake of your children, yourselves and the rest of the Waikato, get into your GP and get your jabs.



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