The Columbus Dispatch :: April 24, 2014
If you’re a child of the 1960s, ’70s or ’80s, there’s a decent chance you aren’t fully immunized against mumps, and unless your mom and dad kept meticulous records, it probably makes sense to think about a shot, health officials say.
The central Ohio mumps outbreak is persisting, with 263 people sickened as of yesterday.
As the case count climbs, more adults are worrying over often-foggy vaccine histories. A look at the age breakdown for cases not connected to Ohio State University shows that much of the illness has been in working-age adults.
Those who know or suspect they didn’t get two MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shots should strongly consider getting the vaccine, said Dr. Julie Mangino, an infectious-disease expert at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Today, children are supposed to get two rounds, the first when they’re a year old and the next between 4 and 6 years old.
But the second dose wasn’t recommended until 1989, after a measles outbreak highlighted the need, said Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics and infectious-disease expert at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
About 5 percent of people vaccinated with one round of the MMR vaccine get no benefit from it; the second shot is designed to catch those people and boost immunity for others, said Frenck, who is the medical director for the immunization program for the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
There is a blood test that determines whether a person has immunity against mumps (either through natural exposure or a vaccine), but Mangino said it makes sense to just go ahead and get a second dose if you know you didn’t have the second shot.
The vaccine contains a live virus and shouldn’t be given to people with compromised immune systems, including those with cancer or HIV, or to those who are being treated with steroids, she said. It’s also not recommended for women who are looking to become pregnant in the next few months and for those who are breast-feeding.
“It’s not just like getting a flu shot,” Mangino said.
Public-health concerns about MMR under-vaccination go beyond the current mumps outbreak. Several measles outbreaks are underway elsewhere, and that disease more commonly leads to serious complications, including pneumonia, which can be deadly.
In some cases, shots might make sense for older adults who never contracted mumps as children (if you had mumps, you don’t need the vaccine).
In general, it is assumed that those born before 1957 were exposed because mumps was so common, but there are exceptions.
Mabel Freeman, 69, had her first shot recently and will be back for a second next month in light of concerns about mumps at Columbus State Community College, where she is interim vice president for student affairs.
“This is a personal choice on my part,” she said, adding that she wants to make sure she doesn’t carry the illness to family members, including her grandchildren.
“I know I had the measles and the German measles (rubella), but I never had the mumps,” Freeman said. “You don’t forget that you’ve had them.”
Many doctors who care for adults won’t have the MMR vaccine in their office, but it is available at health departments and currently is free at Columbus Public Health. Minute Clinics charge $129.99, according to their website, though most routine vaccinations are covered by insurance.
Some parents are asking about speeding up the vaccine schedule so that their children who are younger than 4 can have a second dose. Pediatricians aren’t encouraging this in general, but in some cases they’re vaccinating early.
Sara Ijams-Dashner’s twin girls, Keira and Ella, will be 4 on May 19. When the Blacklick woman learned that a child in her daughters’ preschool had mumps, she asked their pediatrician about early vaccines.
He didn’t want to do it at first, but he agreed after researching outbreak-specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ijams-Dashner said.
“The preschool is full of half-vaccinated kids,” she said. “I was scared. The mumps can pose very serious health risks.”
She also has been frustrated by some parents’ decisions to forgo vaccines.
“There’s no evidence that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they prevent,” Ijams-Dashner said. “The fact is those kids aren’t vaccinated and they expose our kids to the disease.”