Do Adults Need a Measles Vaccine? Experts Say It Depends

Measles outbreaks are shaking communities across the U.S. As of Friday, 704 cases of the disease have been reported this year, the CDC said.

The CDC recommends that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, which protects people from measles, mumps, and rubella. The recommendation is to give your child a first dose of the MMR vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old. A second dose is recommended when they are 4 to 6 years old.

The recommendations for older adults are more complicated. We asked two experts about what people born before the MMR vaccination became prevalent need to know.

Deborah Wexler, MD, is the executive director of the Immunization Action Coalition. She tells Health that the CDC recommends that adults who were vaccinated between 1963 and 1967 get the MMR vaccine. The reason is this: The measles vaccine administered between 1963 and 1967 wasn’t as strong as the MMR vaccine administered now. “Immunity [resulting from the measles vaccine] isn’t certain during that period of time,” Dr. Wexler says. The vaccine used then was “not a live virus vaccine. [Meaning], it’s not active measles.”

Dr. Wexler says that adults who were vaccinated during this time and people who are unsure of their vaccination history need to get the MMR vaccine.

Aside from those vaccinated between 1963 and 1967, any adult in a “high-risk” group might also need to get the MMR vaccine later on in life. Two such groups are people who work in the health care industry and people who travel internationally.

“International travelers are at particularly high risk now for measles…Those who don’t know whether or when they were vaccinated should get vaccinated before international travel. Two doses are needed, spaced 28 days or more apart. It’s best to be fully vaccinated two weeks before departure,” Dr. Wexler says.

The reason that the MMR vaccination is recommended to health care workers is that if they contract measles, they can easily pass it on to immunocompromised patients. “We want them fully protected,” Dr. Wexler says.

People born before 1957 don’t need to worry about getting the MMR vaccine because they’ve likely already been infected by measles.

Waleed Javaid, MD, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City, tells Health, “Everybody should talk with their health care provider. There is no blanket statement that the CDC can give.”

Dr. Javaid emphasizes that getting the vaccine isn’t recommended for everybody, pregnant women included. “Some people cannot receive the vaccine. If I was going to advise it to the wider public, I would say everybody needs to talk with their providers.”

Dr. Wexler stresses that people in high-risk communities need to take action sooner rather than later to protect themselves from the potentially deadly virus. “People who live in Orthodox Jewish communities where there is measles—they’re the highest risk group right now,” she says. “Any infant is at risk.”

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