Buthod: Vaccines can mean difference between life, death

As a pediatrician in McHenry County for more than 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to have never seen a case of measles. However, I do remember being a young child with measles. I had a high fever and cough and was miserable. I had to wear sunglasses in the house because my eyes hurt so badly. I was lucky. I recovered.

Before 1963, when the measles vaccine became available, measles killed 400 to 500 people and hospitalized 48,000 people in the U.S. alone. About 1,000 infected people suffered brain swelling and permanent brain damage. The current outbreak of measles throughout the U.S. is a wake-up call. We must immunize our babies in a timely manner, as they are at the highest risk of complications and death. The first measles, mumps and rubella vaccine should be given at 12 to 15 months old, with a booster dose at age 4 to 6. The two-dose series is 99% effective in preventing measles. If you are traveling abroad, check with your doctor to see whether you are up to date on these vaccines.

Despite what you may hear or see on social media, the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. It does not cause autism. The British doctor who suggested that had his medical license taken away for falsifying information. Although a celebrity or friend’s story claiming that vaccines are bad is powerful, this does not make it true. More than 25 scientific studies have looked at millions of children around the world who received MMR and compared them to children who did not get the vaccine. The bottom line is the MMR vaccine is safe and effective.

With measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases still killing 3 million people worldwide each year, it only takes one unvaccinated traveler to start an outbreak in a community where immunization rates are less than 95%.

Most people don’t know they have measles at the beginning of their illness, so they may go to school, the mall, the gym and lots of other places that you or your family might visit.

The measles virus is so contagious that it is said one case anywhere poses a risk to children everywhere. It is spread through the air by a cough or a sneeze and stays in a room for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area. This could mean our babies and sickest family members who cannot be immunized are at risk of getting the measles and suffering complications because of their weakened immune conditions.

If you have an unvaccinated child or family member who is exposed to measles, notify your doctor’s office immediately. Follow recommendations to keep your child home and away from others for up to 21 days.

The best way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated. Talk to your trusted health care provider and discuss any concerns you may have regarding vaccines. If you feel you can't afford the vaccines, call the McHenry County Department of Health at
815-334-4510. Immunization clinics are held in Woodstock at 2200 N. Seminary Ave. and in Crystal Lake at
100 N. Virginia St. The clinics provide some evening and Saturday hours for your convenience.

The MCDH also has a new mobile vaccine unit that will be rolling later this summer at events throughout McHenry County. For information regarding vaccines, call your doctor or check out www.mcdh.info, www.cdc.gov/vaccines and www.immunize.org.

• Laura Buthod is medical director of the McHenry County Department of Health.