It started out as a few sporadic cases of measles in just a few cities across the US, but soon grew into a massive outbreak. The country is now reporting that this is the worst outbreak of the disease to hit the nation since 1994. So what changed? According to several experts, the rise of anti-vaccine campaigners has led to a significant number of children not being vaccinated and this has contributed to the spike in cases. Soon after, cases of measles were reported in the UK and other parts of the world as well. The most recent report released in 2017, coming from UNICEF, however hits a lot closer home. It revealed that nearly 2.9 million children in India have missed out on getting the first dose of the measles vaccine, rendering a large chunk of the population’s immunity to the disease compromised.
“The vaccine against measles is given in three doses and is a combination vaccine. It is comprised of the vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella and is called the MMR vaccine. The Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) has issued particular guidelines on when each vaccine should be taken. MMR is given to infants and very young children, because they are particularly susceptible to contracting it,” says Dr Sumana Rao, a paediatrician from Motherhood Hospital in Bengaluru’s Banashankari neighbourhood.
The IAP has issued a schedule which lists all the vaccines children should take and at what age. According to this immunisation schedule, the MMR vaccine should be administered to infants at the age of 9 months and then 15 months, followed by another dose at the age of two.
So what happens if a child is not vaccinated?
“Well, the immediate and obvious thing is that the child is prone to contracting measles. But as more and more children are not vaccinated, the overall herd immunity against the disease goes down and this leaves the whole population more vulnerable and susceptible to the disease, adds Dr Sumana.
When a large part of the population is vaccinated against a particular disease, the likelihood of that disease being able to survive in the population goes down drastically. On the other hand, this also means that if many in the population are not immunised against the disease, and only a few are, the chances of the disease infecting someone are increased. This concept is referred to as ‘herd immunity.’
Measles is a highly contagious disease and can rapidly spread throughout a population, especially if the overall state of the population’s herd immunity is poor. The measles virus is airborne and spreads from person to person in this manner. It generally starts with a fever, rash, or cold. While there is no known cure for the disease, supportive measures are taken to reduce the symptoms.