Before you rush out to get that adult measles booster...
May 15, 2019
As if the recent measles outbreaks among unvaccinated youth in the United States wasn’t worrisome enough, there are recent reports that older, previously vaccinated adults could possibly contract the disease.
In 2019 alone, from Jan. 1 to May 3, 764 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 23 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Colorado, one of the states with reported cases, has the lowest rate of vaccinated kindergartners in the country, according to CU Denver. In January, a Denver adult was reported contagious with the disease after having contracted it traveling abroad.
The CDC advises that children under the age of five and adults over 20 are at a higher risk for health complications from measles, as well as pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. The virus is highly contagious and the CDC warns that 90 percent of unvaccinated or not-immune people who come in close contact with someone carrying the virus will get sick.
This latest news—that previously vaccinated adults can lose their immunity and possibly be vulnerable to contracting the disease—has set the phone lines ringing at clinics and doctors’ offices across the country, including the Gunbarrel Medical Center. Adding to the deluge of concerned callers are incomplete news reports advising all adults who were born in the 1960s, ‘70s or early ‘80s to go get a booster.
According to some sources at Gunbarrel Family Medicine, it’s not that simple.
“There’s not an unlimited supply of the serum here,” said a clinic source, who wished to remain anonymous. ”I wonder if we’re doing the same thing with this measles outbreak as when they got a new and improved shingles vaccination. Everybody wanted it, but there’s not enough. Now everyone’s rushing to get an adult measles booster, but there’s not always enough.”
According to the CDC, those born before 1957 are presumably immune. Back then, almost everyone caught the measles and built a lifetime immunity after enduring the disease. However, two competing vaccines were introduced in the U.S. in 1963, one with a live, weak virus and one with a virus deadened by a preservative chemical. The live vaccine gave longer protection, but made recipients sick. The “dead” vaccine had no side effects, but didn’t offer lasting protection. In 1968, the company that produced the live vaccine developed a much safer and even more effective serum that eventually became the standard. However, the two different vaccines account for the discrepancy in immunities for those born in the three decades following the 1950s.
The first step for any adult born after 1958 and concerned that they may no longer be immune, is to get a titer (TIGHT-er)—a lab test that measures existence and level of antibodies to disease in the blood—to determine whether immunity is intact. Most insurance companies don’t cover titers, so it’s an out-of-pocket expense for the patient. The cost averages $75, and results come back in a few days. If a patient is no longer immune, then the clinic will vaccinate if they have enough serum on hand.
However, if you need the vaccine as an adult, be prepared to feel pretty crummy for about a week after receiving the live adult vaccine dose. It affects adults longer and more severely than the doses that children receive.
At press time, media representatives for Boulder Community Health/Gunbarrel Family Medicine had not responded to inquiries about vaccine stores at their clinics.