When she was about 8 years old, Marie, now 67, recalls being vaccinated against the measles.
She never got the infection, but her friend’s sister had it and suffered immensely. Marie said the girl had to have the room darkened because the light hurt her eyes. She was also extremely weak. It took her two weeks to recover.
Several years later, as a high school student, there was another outbreak. A boy in her class developed red spots on his skin and the teacher made him leave the room immediately.
Lori Widmer recalls getting the measles in 1963, when she was 3 years old.
“I remember being so sick I was actually glad to see the doctor, who still made house calls at that time,” recalled Widmer, whose brother contracted the illness and spread it to her and her sister.
The recent measles outbreak has not only brought back some bad memories for Baby Boomers. It’s also making some people who are in their 50s and 60s wonder if they need to get another vaccination or get their MMR vaccine refreshed.
Is It Time for Another Vaccine Shot?
If you got the standard two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine after 1967, you are protected against the measles for life.
However, before 1957, people were not required to get the measles vaccine. People born between 1957 and 1967 were the first wave to receive the required shots. Some of them, however, received a killed virus version of the vaccine. Doctors later found that the killed virus vaccine was not effective.
The killed version of the vaccine was administered between 1963 and 1967. That means people who got the shot during those years could still be susceptible to the virus.
Many seniors who do not believe they had measles are concerned because they don’t know if they ever received the proper immunization. They may not have documentation to confirm whether they did or not.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated on its website that people in that first wave of vaccination before 1967 should be revaccinated. According to the Immunization Action Coalition, those people should be receiving at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.
Dr. Audrey K. Chun, an associate professor in the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said older adults are at a low risk for contracting measles.
“Most people born before 1957 were exposed to at least two major measles outbreaks, which confers immunity,” she said. Once a person has had the measles, they are immune for life.
Those who received the vaccine between 1963 and 1967 are the exception, she noted.
Dr. Samuel Altstein, medical director of the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Group in New York, said about 1 in 10 adults who received the entire series of vaccine shots are no longer protected “due to a decline in their measles antibody level.”
Chun said people who are concerned about contracting measles should talk to their doctor. Doctors can check a patient’s immunity levels with a blood test to detect antibodies that fight measles. The doctor can then decide if another vaccination is a good idea. Receiving an extra dose of the MMR vaccine to be on the safe side is low risk, experts say.
The CDC reported on Feb. 9 that there currently are 121 cases of measles in the country. Those cases were reported between Jan. 1 and Feb. 6 of this year.
Infected people are from 17 states and Washington D.C. Eighty-five percent of the cases are the result of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to a Disney amusement park in California.