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By the Minnesota Council of Health Plans and the Minnesota Hospital Association

If there is one lesson we’ve learned about preventable illnesses in Minnesota in recent years, it is this: Don’t mess with measles. Measles is highly contagious and can be serious — even fatal. More than 100,000 people die from measles each year worldwide; most are under the age of five.

The good news: measles is preventable. And with most schools back in session full time and in person, you’ll want to make sure your child is up to date with this important vaccination. Like COVID-19, measles is caused by a virus. The measles vaccine has been around for more than 50 years, and it’s been so effective that the United States declared measles “eliminated” back in 2000.

Unfortunately, measles outbreaks still occur in the U.S. and are on the rise. The year 2019 saw the most U.S. measles cases in the last 25 years. In 2017, Minnesota experienced its worst measles outbreak since 1990, with almost a third of the patients who contracted the infection needing hospitalization.

So, what’s behind these concerning trends? Experts blame myths and misinformation. Here are the facts: Vaccines do not cause autism spectrum disorder, infant immune systems are strong enough to handle current vaccination schedules and there’s no risk of getting measles from the vaccine, either.

Like with several other vaccines, the CDC reported a drop in MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations in 2020 compared with previous years, as more Minnesotans reduced participation in preventative care during the COVID-19 pandemic due to stay at home orders, health concerns and other factors.

Without the vaccine, children could be exposed to this highly contagious virus. Among people exposed to measles, studies show 90% will become infected if they’re not vaccinated. Measles is spread through the air as infected people breathe and cough. Measles can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, deafness and even death.

Symptoms of measles typically appear 10-14 days after exposure. Your child might have a fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes, diarrhea, ear infections and a blotchy skin rash. Often the inner lining of the cheek may reveal tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background.

A Three-for-one
The measles vaccine is combined with vaccines for mumps and rubella (MMR). Children usually receive their first shot when they are 12-15 months old and again when they’re between four and six. In 2020, during the first months of the COVID-19 outbreak, Minnesota health officials reported a 70% drop in MMR vaccinations.

Today, hospitals, clinics and other providers have implemented new safety protocols to reduce the risk of in-person visits. Some providers are choosing certain days of the week for well-child visits, while others are also placing families in exam rooms immediately after check-in to avoid contact with others. Others are using drive-through clinics and specialized outreach programs. For example, many providers are working closely with key stakeholders in Minnesota’s Somali, East Asian and East African communities to share information and answer questions about these important vaccines.

These measures help families access preventive care and critically important vaccinations. Talk to your doctor about the MMR vaccine and whether your kids are up to date on their immunizations. COVID-19 is still with us, which means preventative care—including vaccinations—can help keep families and communities healthy.