Roll up your sleeve: Adults may need a measles vaccine too

(James Gathany/CDC)

By Priyam Vora

While the focus surrounding the current measles outbreak is on children, adults may need a measles vaccination too.

Measles made national headlines after a recent outbreak among visitors to Disneyland in California. Out of the 99 cases reported in California (not all were related to Disneyland), more than 60 percent occurred in people over the age of 20, according to California health officials. The first measles case confirmed in Illinois on Jan. 27 was also contracted by an adult, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

While measles is perceived to be a children’s disease, health experts emphasize that adults can catch the highly contagious disease and  need protection.

“It’s not just young children that need to be up to date on their vaccines, we are starting to see more adults get measles and spread it,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in a press release.


People who were born before 1957 need not get a measles shot as they would have already been exposed to the disease as children, according to experts. Consequently, it is very rare to see measles in people born prior to 1957. Doctors insist anybody who has concerns to talk to their doctor or a practice nurse.

Doctors also said that people who have already been infected with measles are immune.

“If you already had measles as a child, you are protected for life,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Chicago. “Getting the real disease is highly protective, and it doesn’t seem to wane very much over time.”

Infectious diseases specialists, however, urge all teenagers and adults who do not remember getting a vaccine or are unsure, to get one immediately.

“There is no risk of overdose,” said Nirav Shah, the director of Illinois Department of Public Health. “If you did get the vaccine, your body will remember that and will not recognize a further vaccine, so you are very unlikely to get any serious reactions.”

Many other adults who did get their vaccination years ago as children also need to be concerned. Doctors recommend they get another booster because with each passing year, people lose their original protection from the vaccine and are now highly susceptible to the virus.

“With time, especially if you don’t get natural boosting by being exposed to people with that same illness, your memory cells may tend to forget,” said Dr. Marcelo Laufer, an infectious disease specialist at Miami Children’s Hospital.

Amid the growing measles outbreak, doctors recommend all those not immunized as well as those previously immunized, to consider getting their measles shot.

“In general, all adults born after 1957, whether in the U.S or outside it, are better off if they get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine as an adult,” Wynia said.

Wynia added that in certain cases, some adults may need two doses of MMR – a first dose and then a booster one month later. “This is what we recommend for people who are in an area where there is an outbreak, health care workers, and people travelling to other countries that don’t have a good childhood vaccination program,” he added.


Apart from people born before 1957 and those who have already had measles as a child, adults who have the records to prove that they received their two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine don’t need to get another shot.


  • If you have proof of vaccination
  • If you had measles as a child
  • If you were born before 1957

“Two doses of measles-containing vaccine are more than 99 percent effective in preventing measles,” Schuchat said.

Specialists also suggest getting a blood test to check the immunity status against measles.


Since adults travel internationally more than children, those who are unvaccinated are extra vulnerable.

“If one person has it, 90% of the unvaccinated people close to the person who has it also become infected,” Schuchat said, adding that one person can potentially infect 12 to 18 others.

The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that those who plan to travel internationally must get 2 doses of MMR at least four weeks prior to their travel date.

Measles can be brought into the United States from any country where the disease still occurs or where outbreaks are occurring including Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. CDC has reported many measles cases to have been brought into the country from common travel destinations such as England, France, Philippines, India, Germany and Vietnam.

“It is important to remember that there are around 20 million measles cases around the world each year,” said Shuchat. “So measles is literally a plane ride away.”


Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease. According to doctors, the virus can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has left the room.

Anybody who has been potentially exposed and is experiencing symptoms of a fever of 101 degrees or higher with a cough, runny nose, red eyes and rash should call the Cook County Department of Public Health at 708-633-8030 or 708-633-4000 and their health care provider, state officials said. These individuals are advised to not go to their doctor’s office or the emergency room as they could infect others around them. Rather, they should stay home.

Photo at top: Adults who haven’t received their measles vaccination or are unsure they ever got one, shouldn’t think twice before getting their measles shot, say doctors.(James Gathany/CDC)