Doctors are often the first to hear about a problem with a vaccine. And, because of their daily interactions with patients and their daily exposure to the vaccine, they are more likely to be aware of the risks. Some doctors are also worried about the potential for a vaccine to be linked to a potential increased risk of autism.
Since the publication of the studies linking the MMR vaccine to autism, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a statement to warn parents about the link between the vaccine and autism.
“The AAP recommends that all children receive routine MMR vaccination starting at 1 year old,” the statement says. “Doctors, parents, and other health care professionals should not hesitate to report adverse events to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) if the observed symptoms are not commonly associated with vaccinations or if the symptoms are severe or persistent.”
Why are parents so nervous?
Parents have good reason to be nervous about the possibility of a vaccine causing autism. As we’ve mentioned, the studies that link the vaccine to autism have been criticized by the medical community.
For example, a study published in the Lancet in 1998 looked at more than 3,000 children who received the MMR vaccine in the 1990s. The study found that the rate of autism was higher in those who received the vaccine than in those who did not.
But the study’s director, Professor Andrew Wakefield, has since been accused of fabricating the results and manipulating data in a way that would make it appear that the vaccine was associated with an increased risk of autism.
In 2011, the medical journal The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s article and said the study had serious flaws. The journal also said that Wakefield had failed to respond to concerns raised by the scientific community about the study.
While the medical community has grown more accepting of the possibility of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, the debate is far from over. There are other studies that have questioned the link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Are people who have had the vaccine injured?
The answer is no. In fact, the vaccine is designed to prevent disease. It contains no live virus.
“The MMR vaccine is not only safe, but it is the only vaccine that has been shown to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella,” says Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It does not cause disease itself. It is designed to prevent disease.”
She adds that there are no reports of anyone getting hurt by the vaccine.
What are other vaccines doing?
In addition to the MMR vaccine, other vaccines are available. These include the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine, and the pneumococcal vaccine.
“The CDC recommends that children receive at least two doses of the DTP vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine, and the pneumococcal vaccine at 2 months, 4 years, and at least 10 years of age,” says Messonnier.
In fact, according to the CDC, “the only known risk of a vaccine is when it’s given with a live virus, such as a smallpox vaccine.”
In other words, it’s not clear that the risk of injury is greater with a vaccine than it is with an infection.
Are there other ways to protect against measles?
Other methods of protection besides vaccination are recommended. These include:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick or who may have the virus.
- Wear a face mask.
- Get vaccinated to protect against the disease.
- Get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
A person who is vaccinated may need to stay home for a few days after receiving the vaccine to help prevent spreading the disease to others.
What about the timing?
There is no way to tell if someone who has received the MMR vaccine will be immune to measles. However, it’s important to receive the vaccine to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Can the measles vaccine be given to babies?
Yes. Research has shown that the vaccine is safe and effective for babies from 6 months old and older. The CDC recommends that babies receive the vaccine when they are 2 months old.
What about the chicken pox vaccine?
The chicken pox vaccine is a live virus that contains the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a type of virus that causes chickenpox.
The varicella-zoster virus usually causes chickenpox, but it can also cause shingles, or herpes zoster, in people who have had chickenpox. However, there is no evidence that the chicken pox vaccine causes shingles.
The CDC recommends that children receive the chicken pox vaccine at 2 months and 4 years old.
How about the mumps vaccine?
The mumps vaccine is a live virus that contains the mumps virus. The mumps virus causes mumps, orchitis, and inflammation of the testicles. There is no evidence that the mumps vaccine causes either of these conditions.
The CDC recommends that children receive the mumps vaccine when they are 2 years old.
Are the chickenpox and mumps vaccines safe?
The chicken pox vaccine and the mumps vaccine are safe and effective for the majority of people.
However, there is a small risk of a severe allergic reaction to the chicken pox vaccine. If this happens, it can cause hives, swelling of the tongue or mouth, or anaphylaxis.
If this happens, the person should seek immediate medical attention.
How effective is the vaccine?
The mumps vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing mumps. In other words, if the vaccine is given to someone who has not had the virus, they have a 0.05 percent chance of getting mumps.
The chicken pox vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing chickenpox. In other words, if the vaccine is given to someone who has not had chickenpox, they have a 0.05 percent chance of getting chickenpox.
Should I get vaccinated?
If you have not been vaccinated and you have the measles, mumps, or rubella virus, talk to your doctor about whether you should get vaccinated as soon as possible.
If you have been vaccinated, talk to your doctor about the vaccine’s effectiveness and side effects.
Is there a difference between the chicken pox and mumps vaccines?
The mumps and chicken pox vaccines are similar in that both are live viruses that contain the same virus. However, the chicken pox vaccine has a higher rate of effectiveness and is more likely to cause side effects.
If you have received the chicken pox or mumps vaccine and are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about whether you should get vaccinated.
What about side effects?
The mumps, chicken pox, and measles vaccines all cause mild side effects. These side effects include:
- Pain in the muscles of the shoulder and arm
- Joint pain
- Muscle and joint pain
- Swollen eyelids
- Feeling tired
- Loss of appetite
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you have these symptoms. These symptoms can indicate a more serious condition.
The mumps, chicken pox, and measles vaccines are also safe and effective for most people. However, if you have had a reaction to one of these vaccines, talk to your doctor about whether you should get the second dose of the vaccine.
Are there any other vaccines that should be avoided?
There are some other vaccines that you should avoid. The following vaccines are not recommended for individuals who are pregnant, are breastfeeding, or who have a weakened immune system.
- Shingles (herpes zoster): The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) vaccine can cause shingles.
- Pneumococcal disease (pneumonia): The influenza (flu) vaccine can cause pneumonia.
- Tetanus: The tetanus vaccine can cause tetanus.
- Hepatitis B: The hepatitis B vaccine can cause liver damage.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): The HPV vaccine can cause genital warts.
- Rubella: The MMR vaccine can cause congenital rubella syndrome, which is a birth defect.
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about the safety of the vaccine.
What about the chickenpox vaccine?
The chickenpox vaccine is a live virus that contains the chickenpox virus.
If you have had chickenpox, you should talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe to get the chickenpox vaccine.
The chickenpox vaccine is not safe for babies younger than 12 months old and for people with a weakened immune system.
People who have had a severe allergic reaction to the chickenpox vaccine in the past should wait until the reaction has resolved before getting the vaccine.
What is the chickenpox vaccine?
The chickenpox vaccine is a live virus that contains the chickenpox virus. It is given into a muscle or into a vein to get the virus into the body.
The virus causes chickenpox, which causes the following symptoms:
- A rash with blisters and a rash on the torso and head
- Red, itchy, watery eyes
- Sore throat
- A general feeling of discomfort
- Itchy skin
- A runny or stuffy nose
- A cough
- Abdominal pain
- A loss of appetite
The risk of a severe allergic reaction is very rare, but has occurred in people with a mild allergic reaction to the chickenpox vaccine in the past.
Talk to your doctor about whether you should get the chickenpox vaccine.
What’s the takeaway?
The MMR vaccine is safe and effective and protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. It is very important for parents to vaccinate their children.
If you believe your child has been exposed to measles, mumps, or rubella, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
If you believe your child is at risk for measles, mumps, or rubella, talk
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