Measles Outbreak Traced To A Vaccinated Woman, But Anti-Vaxxers Might Still Be To Blame

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Child with measles


Despite the controversy, for most of us, vaccines are a normal part of life. Much like any other preventative measure, we get vaccinated and then promptly forget about it, secure in the belief that we’re safe from whatever disease we’ve just been inoculated against. But perhaps we’re not as safe as we think, because a recent New York City measles outbreak was traced back to a fully vaccinated individual. But hold your horses, anti-vaxxers, because this doesn’t mean what you think it means.

A recent Oxford Journals report revealed that a previously vaccinated 22-year-old theater employee came down with the measles back in 2011. This is rare, but not entirely unheard of. Most people get two doses of the measles vaccine by the time they hit adulthood, but in rare instances someone will still contract the virus. According to

“Less than 1% of people who get both shots will contract the potentially lethal skin and respiratory infection. And even if a fully vaccinated person does become infected—a rare situation known as “vaccine failure”—they weren’t thought to be contagious.”

This is why the unnamed theater employee, dubbed “Measles Mary,”  was released from the hospital without being quarantined. Unfortunately this person was contagious, and spread the illness to four other people, two of whom were also previously vaccinated. The plot thickens.

For decades, public health authorities have believed that measles immunity lasts forever, but according to Jennifer Rosen, who led the investigation as Director of Epidemiology and Surveillance at the New York City Bureau of Immunization, “the actual duration (of immunity) following infection or vaccination is unclear.” I can already see the anti-vaxxers chomping at the bit to use this little tidbit in their anti-vaccine campaigns. But not so fast.

Obviously this is a frightening situation, but no one is suggesting that vaccines don’t work, simply that their effectiveness might wane over the years. Rosen doesn’t think that this single case merits a change in how vaccines are given (at least not yet), but it’s definitely a red flag and adult boosters may be suggested in the future.

Anti-vaxxers, here’s where you come in:

“If it turns out that vaccinated people lose their immunity as they get older, that could leave them vulnerable to measles outbreaks seeded by un-vaccinated people—which are increasingly common in the United States and other developed countries.”

So yes, the measles vaccine may lose its effectiveness with time, but there is a good chance that the actual viruses they’re getting are being caused by folks who refuse to vaccinate in the first place. The relative newness of the anti-vaccine movement might be the reason why this shorter immunity period hasn’t been an issue until now.

Adults losing their protection against measles wasn’t a problem in a country where herd immunity protected everyone, but thanks to the anti-vax movement, this protection is being threatened. I think Robert Jacobson, the Director of Clinical Studies for the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Minnesota sums it up best when he says, “The most important ‘vaccine failure’ with measles happens when people refuse the vaccine in the first place.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

(Photo: Melissa King/Shutterstock)