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The State of California recently passed one of the toughest measles vaccinations laws in the USA. Here's what it requires, and what it doesn't. Parents have alternatives even under the new law.

Measles used to be a disease that nearly every kid got. Spread from child to child and from child to previously uninfected adults by contact with droplets of mucus or saliva, whole classes of school children often got the disease. I myself caught measles at a birthday party when I was five (before there were vaccines). 

The next day all 30 children who were at the party had runny noses, fevers, cough, and worried mothers. Two or three days later, we all had the well-known red spots. At least two of the children developed pneumonia (one of them being me), a not uncommon complication of the infection, and one went temporarily blind. None of these children had been vaccinated, since at this time, the measles vaccine did not exist.

Measles was not and is not a benign disease. Before the rubeola vaccine was introduced in 1963, three to four million children a year caught the disease just in the United States. On average 48,000 American children had to be hospitalized, 4,000 developed permanent brain damage, and 400 to 500 died. 

Measles is still a scourge in much of the developing world, where 20 million children catch the disease. Of these 20 million children, about 122,000 per year die, and tens of thousands go blind, typically when they also suffer malnutrition.

Do Measles Shots Really Work?

There's no doubt that measles vaccinations, given as part of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) shots required of most Amiercan public school children, stops measles. In 2000, the United States had no cases of measles at all. It is not necessary for absolutely every child to get the MMR vaccine to stop the spread of the disease. After all, you can't catch measles from someone who doesn't have it. As long as 93 to 95 percent of the population either has had measles (once you get them, you never get them again) or has had the immumization, the virus is not found in the general population. However, in recent years the problem has been that children visiting from countries where vaccination is not required have brought the virus with them, and spread it to local children whose parents have chosen not to have them immunized.

Is There Any Reason Not To Get The MMR Vaccine?

Although sensational stories about side effects of the MMR vaccine are mostly baseless or even made up, there are legitimate medical exceptions for administration of the measles-mumps-rubeola vaccine. Severely immunocompromised children may die if they get measles, but they may also die if they get the vaccine. There are other forms of treatment for them. Children who have leukemia should not get the vaccine, and it should not be administred to anyone who is allergic to Neomycin or any component of the vaccine. 
Every state in the United States allows medical exemptions for the vaccine for children who are placed in public schools. California also continues to allow medical exemptions for getting the vaccine.
More controversial is the idea that parents should be able to place their children in public schools without vaccination justified on non-medical grounds. American laws are more straightforward than they appear, and there is actually a rationale for them.
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