URI pharmacy professor: Get your measles shots

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Jeffrey Bratberg discusses importance of vaccines

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 17, 2015 – Jeffrey Bratberg, a University of Rhode Island pharmacy professor, is a measles expert, and yes, he had no qualms about having his children vaccinated, as dozens of studies of millions of children have proven that measles vaccine is not linked to autism or other serious side effects.


Bratberg says the vaccine is safe and, just as important, protects other children in the community, especially those too young to be vaccinated, from getting the potentially fatal illness.


In addition to infectious diseases, his research also focuses on bioterrorism and natural disasters. A member of the Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team and the Rhode Island Medical Reserve Corps, Bratberg assisted with the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in Rhode Island and responded to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.


URI’s Marketing and Communications Office talked to him about measles and other infectious diseases making a comeback in the country.

What are symptoms of measles?


Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat. The illness is followed by a rash that moves rapidly over the body. The virus is highly contagious. The Center for Disease Control recommends all children get two doses of the measles vaccine, starting with the first dose between 12 to 15 months, and the second dose between 4 to 6 years. Children can receive the second dose earlier, as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.

Why is measles not just another childhood disease and what makes it so dangerous?


Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known to humankind. It is a virus that mainly spreads by direct contact with airborne respiratory droplets. If someone who is contagious coughs or sneezes near someone, that person has an increased chance of getting measles. What’s even more frightening is that you can catch measles just by being in a room where someone with the illness had been and left – more than 2 hours after the infected person has left.

If a child suffers side effects after being vaccinated what should parents or guardians do?


Mild risks include fever, rash and, rarely, swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck. About 1 of every 3,000 vaccinated children gets a fever high enough to cause a seizure. Moderate and severe side effects are also very rare. Fewer than one in 1 million children have a serious allergic reaction. It is normal to have a little bit of pain at the injection site. After a second dose, children are protected for life. If a child has any reaction to the vaccine, parents should seek medical help immediately.

Does the vaccine cause autism?


There is no convincing evidence that any vaccine causes autism. Concern has been raised about a possible relation between the measles vaccine and autism by some parents of children who have autism. Symptoms of autism are often noticed by parents during a child’s second year, and may come weeks or months after the vaccination.


The autism debate dates back to 1998, when Andrew Wakefield, a researcher in the United Kingdom, allegedly connected the measles vaccine to autism. Since then, Wakefield has been discredited, his medical license has been revoked and his research paper has been retracted. Even though the research was discredited, it still has helped fuel anti-vaccine sentiment today.

Is this country reaching a crisis point with diseases that were previously held at bay, now resurfacing in many ways? Besides measles, what other diseases should we be paying attention to, and what are the risks?


The United States is experiencing a large, multi-state outbreak of measles linked to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. The outbreak started in December 2014 and has spread to more than a dozen other states. Twenty percent of the people went to the hospital. In four to six weeks, 100 more cases were reported, mostly involving people who had not been vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for parents to get their children vaccinated to protect them and their communities from further outbreaks.


Besides measles we need to pay attention to pertussis, or whooping cough. Pertussis is an infection of the respiratory system. The first symptoms are similar to a common cold, which include a runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. After about one to two weeks, the dry cough evolves into coughing spells. This is the origin of the term whooping cough.


Pertussis is highly contagious. The bacteria spread from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from an infected person’s nose or mouth. These may become airborne when the person sneezes or coughs. It mainly affects infants younger than 6 months old and children 11 to 18 years old whose immunity has started to fade. Before a vaccine was created, pertussis killed 5,000 to 10,000 people in the United States each year. Now, the pertussis vaccine has reduced the annual number of deaths to less than 30. But in recent years, the number of cases has started to rise. By 2004, the number of whooping cough cases spiked past 25,000, the highest level it’s been since the 1950s.

Explain herd immunity to us.


Vaccines can prevent outbreaks of disease and save lives. When a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease: There is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines, such as infants and pregnant women, get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained.

You’re an infectious disease and public health specialist, as well as a father. Do you vaccinate your children?


I have two children, and I always get them vaccinated. I am very pro-vaccine so it is completely a no-brainer. Why not prevent disease in them and protect the community at the same time?

What would you say to the parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, especially those who say they don’t want their kids injected with chemicals or substances that artificially stimulate the immune system?


Our children are exposed through food, water and air to millions and millions of organisms and/or antigens from those organisms, and they do just fine. Vaccines are highly purified, rigorously studied and, have been given to trillions of people. There are actually far fewer antigens in the vaccines we give our children now than we did years ago. Plus, multiple national and state vaccine safety surveillance systems constantly monitor vaccines for unusual patterns of adverse events – which haven’t been detected.


In addition to protecting you from the mumps and rubella, the measles vaccine saves lives, protects young children, keeps others safe and prevents future hospital visits. It’s also important to know that babies younger than 1 year old are not vaccinated, so they need to be protected by children who are vaccinated. Babies who get measles are at increased risk for serious health problems like bronchitis and pneumonia.


This release was written by Caitlin Musselman, a URI Marketing and Communications intern and a public relations and political science major.


URI Photo by Nora Lewis