With measles cases reaching record highs in 2019, experts answer the questions many parents are probably wondering.

By Sarah Bradley
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Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

As a parent, it's easy to worry about the measles outbreaks and cases sweeping through New York, Washington, and 13 other states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there were 387 cases of measles in the United States from January 1 to March 28 in 2019 alone—that's more cases than there were in all of 2018 when 372 cases were reported. It's also the second-highest number of reported cases since 2000, the year measles was declared eliminated from the United States. (There were 667 cases in 2014.)

It's scary stuff, for sure, and all the talk about outbreaks might have you thinking twice about the people your own kids spend time around—especially in close quarters.

Should you keep unvaccinated kids away?

While vaccines play a crucial role in maintaining herd immunity and preventing the spread of illness, they aren't 100 percent effective; there's still a small chance your fully immunized child could catch the measles if they were exposed to the extremely contagious virus.

So...you should basically start screening your kiddo's friends for up-to-date vaccinations at the door before letting them inside your house, right?

Experts say that extra layer of protection isn't necessarily a step you need to take. "I tell people with these concerns that there are children in your child's class that are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated, and you have no right to be made aware of that because of HIPAA (medical privacy) regulations," says Gary Kramer, M.D., a pediatrician in Miami, Florida. "Your kids will be around unvaccinated kids everywhere, unbeknownst to you."

While it's tempting to want to keep your home a controlled, contagion-free environment, it's not necessarily where you should focus your efforts. Instead of stressing over keeping unvaccinated kids out of your home, says Kramer, your best bet at protection lies in making sure you are all up-to-date on recommended vaccinations.

There is one important exception to that, however. "The most important thing to consider is whether anyone potentially exposed to the unvaccinated child could be susceptible to any of the diseases that particular child may be able to transmit," says Stan Spinner, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president at Texas Children's Pediatrics and Texas Children's Urgent Care.

For example, infants are not able to receive the first dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine until they are at least 12 months old, so babies under one year of age are highly susceptible. And even with proper vaccinations, elderly adults and immunocompromised people (like those on steroid or cancer treatments) are also more vulnerable to illness. If you have anyone living in your home who falls into one of these categories, you should seriously consider setting stricter rules about who is allowed to visit.

Otherwise, says Spinner, the risk of a healthy, fully immunized individual getting infected from exposure to an unvaccinated individual is low. But, obviously, the risk is never zero—and both experts agree that parents need to evaluate their own comfort level each time they're presented with this scenario.

How to start a vaccination convo

If you decide that you're ultimately not comfortable with having an unvaccinated child at your house, you'll have to broach the subject with that child's parents. It's understandable to be intimidated by the thought because these kinds of conversations can be awkward and may instantly put people on the defensive. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be a situation wrought with drama or confrontation.

"The best approach is to be direct about your concerns without judgment," says Kramer. "There's a big movement of shaming people today, but it just doesn't help—no one likes to be shamed."

Instead of slinging accusations, Kramer says to honestly express your personal fears about vaccine-preventable illnesses. Try saying something like, "This is a real concern of mine, though I know not everyone shares it," or "I respect the choices that you're making for your children, but this is the choice I'm making for mine."

If the parents of the unvaccinated child respond by saying their child isn't sick so you don't have to worry, you have reason to stand your ground: with many illnesses, people can be contagious before they begin showing symptoms and for a time after starting to feel better, too. So your child could catch an illness from a seemingly healthy person, making it nearly impossible to thoroughly screen people for illness.

At the end of the day, your decision may or may not be met with understanding. In an ideal world, the vaccine conversation would start to become more and more commonplace, in the same way that experts recommend talking to your child's friend's parents about food allergies and guns in the home while arranging playdates.

"I believe parents need to be comfortable asking [about vaccinations]," says Spinner. "Protection against vaccine-preventable diseases is not only important for your child, but also for others. Even for parents of healthy, fully immunized children, opening up this dialogue may encourage vaccine-hesitant parents to decide to vaccinate their children."

Comments (24)

Anonymous
December 27, 2019
I am really sad to see articles from Parents.com that seeks to spread fear, divisiveness, and ostracization to certain populations in the children. Don't you know that you are causing psychological harm to children by doing this? The vast majority of unvaccinated children do not have the measles. Look at the CDC and WHO stats yourself. There are on average less than 1000 cases of measles a year. Do the calculation yourself with a population of 350 million in the United States. Are unvaccinated children really a threat? This is the same kind of stereotypical thinking that has led to fear of black people, fear of Muslim terrorists, and now unvaccinated children. Moreover, why is no one talking about vaccine injury? Why doesn't Parents.com acknowledge the 50,000+ cases of vaccine injury reports that are filed to the US government's Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System? It's time we move away from divisive, one-sided dialogue, and address the real questions: 1) why are we getting so many vaccines?, and 2) is this making our children's health worse?
Anonymous
December 26, 2019
This is a very intellectually immature article. Does Ms. Bradley realize that she has not been vaccinated against measles either because the antibodies wane after a couple of years? Most of the adult parents in the US aren't vaccinated at all, and yet we are all doing fine? Besides, measles is a benign disease (a cough, a rash, and a fever) with a US death rate of only one in 500,000. (However, the chance of a seizure from the MMR is 1 in 640) And what about the problem of vaccine injury? Why doesn't Ms. Bradley write about that? This is a very hypocritical article.
Anonymous
December 26, 2019
Measles vaccine caries a live virus which can shed and spread. I wonder why we are having this conversation now; there have always been unvaccinated people in our midst
Anonymous
December 25, 2019
I am shocked at the way this article has spread so much disinfo. And I am sickened at how you’d use your platform to pit parents against each other. This article is biased at best! You are telling everyone to start the convo, yet it is stated in the article that people are allowed, by law, medical privacy. Banning any kids from your home... how about ban those who ARE fully vaxed so they don’t shed any diseases to anyone else! I expected better from you, Parents.
Anonymous
December 25, 2019
I find this article highly uneducated. If you believe vaccines protect your child, you should not be worried about children who are unvaccinated. The ideas presented here provoke unnecessary fear in order to make money for pharmaceutical companies. You are also creating decisiveness between parents instead of promoting further research.
Anonymous
December 25, 2019
The restrictions being imposed upon selectively vaccinated or unvaccinated children is not about medical risk. It is not about the transmission of disease. It is not about the safety of the public space. If it really was about medical risk and the transmission of disease, these other unvaccinated and unimmunized children and adults, as well as those recently vaccinated with live virus vaccines would also be deprived of a public education and access to public spaces. If it was about health they would promote healthy diets. But that will never happen. The government is trying to divide people and articles like this just encourage it. You are doing parents a disservice by posting this nonsense....It's hard to fathom how an entire nation has been hypnotized to believe that a self limiting rash that confers a lifetime of immunity AND immunity to babies born to moms who've had measles has become Public Enemy #1...They've turned measles into Black Plague, that's quite a trick.
Anonymous
December 25, 2019
I am a fan of this magazine but this article is troubling because it incites hatred, demanding friends and neighbors to interrogate one another about their children's private medical records. This is branding children and making them targets for violence. Please remove this article that may incite hate, violence and bullying.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
I left a comment but it now says be the first to comment, why?
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
The discussion of contagiousness from a pathogen can be from a vaccinated individual or an unvaccinated individual. Here is an example of research with regard to Pertussis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24277828/ For an individual how they get immunized is a medical decision best left to their doctor and not socially as the person could be immunocompromised or there could be vaccine injury in their family history or the person themselves. They may be doing a different schedule than the CDC or just want to get immunized from the wild chickenpox infection instead of infected from the vaccine strain to be immunized. This is what they do in England: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/childrens-health/why-are-children-in-the-uk-not-vaccinated-against-chickenpox/ That is why it is a private mater. If the unvaccinated individual has been immunized against measles or whooping cough then they might be less contagious than the vaccinated child. Here is an example of some research, those donors born before 1957 have been immunized naturally as is the protocol from the CDC. https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/216/8/977/4084678
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Thank you for the informative article. From the content and the ideas in the article I assume you will also have some useful advice on how we could rid our schools of all the kids with Hepatitis B, C and HIV infections? Under Federal disability laws they are allowed to attend schools while their condition is contagious and thus endanger their classmates' health. We should also consider banning all the medically fragile kids, children with cancer, and anyone on immune suppressants, since they tend to frequent hospitals and be on antibiotics, which increases their chances of being infected or colonized with multidrug resistant deadly organisms such as MRSA, VRE, etc. And also, can we please keep all those kids from poor neighborhoods out of our schools, since they have a higher risk of having lice, fleas, ringworm, intestinal worms, and other afflictions, as well as a higher risk of being involved in drugs and crime? Just kidding. This is only a logical conclusion from your disgusting article that is calling for segregation and discrimination. Hard to believe this publication would allow an article that condones discrimination against groups of people. It's a line that should never be crossed in a democratic society. I wish for you to one day find yourself on the receiving end of the sort of treatment you are advocating for. Enjoy your apartheid.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Thank you for the informative article. From the content and the ideas in the article I assume you will also have some useful advice on how we could rid our schools of all the kids with Hepatitis B, C and HIV infections? Under Federal disability laws they are allowed to attend schools while their condition is contagious and thus endanger their classmates' health. We should also consider banning all the medically fragile kids, children with cancer, and anyone on immune suppressants, since they tend to frequent hospitals and be on antibiotics, which increases their chances of being infected or colonized with multidrug resistant deadly organisms such as MRSA, VRE, etc. And also, can we please keep all those kids from poor neighborhoods out of our schools, since they have a higher risk of having lice, fleas, ringworm, intestinal worms, and other afflictions, as well as a higher risk of being involved in drugs and crime? Just kidding. This is only a logical conclusion from your disgusting article that is calling for segregation and discrimination. Hard to believe this publication would allow an article that condones discrimination against groups of people. It's a line that should never be crossed in a democratic society. I wish for you to one day find yourself on the receiving end of the sort of treatment you are advocating for. Enjoy your apartheid.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Thank you for the informative article. From the content and the ideas in the article I assume you will also have some useful advice on how we could rid our schools of all the kids with Hepatitis B, C and HIV infections? Under Federal disability laws they are allowed to attend schools while their condition is contagious and thus endanger their classmates' health. We should also consider banning all the medically fragile kids, children with cancer, and anyone on immune suppressants, since they tend to frequent hospitals and be on antibiotics, which increases their chances of being infected or colonized with multidrug resistant deadly organisms such as MRSA, VRE, etc. And also, can we please keep all those kids from poor neighborhoods out of our schools, since they have a higher risk of having lice, fleas, ringworm, intestinal worms, and other afflictions, as well as a higher risk of being involved in drugs and crime? Just kidding. This is only a logical conclusion from your disgusting article that is calling for segregation and discrimination. Hard to believe this publication would allow an article that condones discrimination against groups of people. It's a line that should never be crossed in a democratic society. I wish for you to one day find yourself on the receiving end of the sort of treatment you are advocating for. Enjoy your apartheid.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Thank you for the informative article. From the content and the ideas in the article I assume you will also have some useful advice on how we could rid our schools of all the kids with Hepatitis B, C and HIV infections? Under Federal disability laws they are allowed to attend schools while their condition is contagious and thus endanger their classmates' health. We should also consider banning all the medically fragile kids, children with cancer, and anyone on immune suppressants, since they tend to frequent hospitals and be on antibiotics, which increases their chances of being infected or colonized with multidrug resistant deadly organisms such as MRSA, VRE, etc. And also, can we please keep all those kids from poor neighborhoods out of our schools, since they have a higher risk of having lice, fleas, ringworm, intestinal worms, and other afflictions, as well as a higher risk of being involved in drugs and crime? Just kidding. This is only a logical conclusion from your disgusting article that is calling for segregation and discrimination. Hard to believe this publication would allow an article that condones discrimination against groups of people. It's a line that should never be crossed in a democratic society. I wish for you to one day find yourself on the receiving end of the sort of treatment you are advocating for. Enjoy your apartheid.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
This article is so biased that I don't know where to begin. First. The CDC is an organization that gets Millions of dollars a year from it's vaccine SALES. Yes, it holds many patents on vaccines. Second. Most contagious illnesses in the USA are transmitted among and from the VACCINATED. Look at these Whooping Cough "outbreaks" where 90 or even 100% of the sick are "Fully Vaccinated" Third. Until you, as a parent do some INDEPENDENT research, you will be manipulated by the Pharma Companies with a nasty product for sale. The vaccine court has paid out over $4.6 BILLION so far for VACCINE INJURY AND DEATH. Personally, I'd let my 4 year old catch the wild measles rash and he/she would be immune for a lifetime.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
A more valid question... should recently vaccinated, shedding individuals be banned from all public places until the shedding period ends?
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Better keep your kids home, never go to the store or the park where there's tons of unvaccinated adults.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
This is the most obscure thing I have ever heard!! Did you know, unless parents have gotten ALL the vaccines the CDC recommends, THEY aren’t vaccinated?!? Did you know that the kids who are getting vaccines like MMR and DTaP are the ones SPREADING the disease? Those are love vaccines. If vaccines work, why are you so terrified of unvaccinated children coming into your home? Stop the fear mongering and take this down. This is no different than saying “if you don’t want (insert whatever religion) you want in your home, here’s what to do.” This is absolutely insane. I will not support parents magazine anymore, that’s for sure.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
This is the most obscure thing I have ever heard!! Did you know, unless parents have gotten ALL the vaccines the CDC recommends, THEY aren’t vaccinated?!? Did you know that the kids who are getting vaccines like MMR and DTaP are the ones SPREADING the disease? Those are love vaccines. If vaccines work, why are you so terrified of unvaccinated children coming into your home? Stop the fear mongering and take this down. This is no different than saying “if you don’t want (insert whatever religion) you want in your home, here’s what to do.” This is absolutely insane. I will not support parents magazine anymore, that’s for sure.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Your children are at greater risk from contracting measles from a child who is recently vaccinated and shedding the virus than from an unvaccinated child. In addition, most adults are not up to date with the the CDC's recommended adult schedule so, in essence, there is an entire population of adults walking around "unvaccinated". Did you actually look at the number of measles cases that were from the wild strain vs. from vaccinated shedding the virus? It's pretty clear you didn't. In fact, if you had done any research at all you would know that measles is a normal infection that will clear up within a a week or so and leave the person with a lifetime of natural immunity. Shame on you for your lack of information and utter ignorance
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
To each their own no doubt. BUT Sarah you've missed an important aspect of this topic, what about the children recently vaccinated. Those children are contagious per the manufacturing insert for 6wks and should be kept away from pregnant women for 3 mo. Those children should be in isolation during those months & definitely should not be in school. (Thats why so many kids are sick in the beginning of the school season. So many recently vaccinated children are passing their germs!) Additionally how often are those vaccinated getting titers checked? A bloodtest once a month? Once a week possibly? Unvaccinated children arent carriers of anything, its the recently vaccinated. Not only didn't the temporary protection not work in such cases, but they are carriers for the very illness you are suggesting others have fear of. Additionally those babies at home should be concerned. Since people have been taught to fear this minor childhood illness, mothers are no longer passing antibodies to their newborns. Measles has always been cyclical. Despite claims, it's never been eliminated. It seems as if no research went into this fear based opinion. Im a bit shocked an editor allowed this to be published at all. I suggest this article be pulled to give opportunity to actually research this topic. You may also want to look into the many lawsuits against Merck (the makers of the MMR.) The same company that put Vioxx on the market knowing it caused overwhelming heart defects! Do you think suddenly they have conscious for this? Just food for thought, because again to each their own.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
Pull this article. Nonvaccinated kids are not any danger to the vaccinated kids. Stop this nonsense. Disclose who and how much paid you for this article.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
What a silly conversation. The number of un-vaxxed people has changed very little. We are always exposed to the unvaccinated Plus, has anyone noticed the outbreaks of things like mumps and pertussis happening among fully vaccinated populations? Vaccines don't always work. Plus, most communicable illnesses do not have vaccines. What about all those? Plus, why is each person's health status suddenly expected to be public knowledge? Lastly, substitute any other non-criminal group into that question about who you'd allow in your home, and you'd be called a bigot.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
It doesn't make sense to ban healthy unvaccinated children. This article is very concerning. Does no-one stop to think for themselves? This isn't logical. You can't spread something you don't have. Measles doesn't just randomly manifest in people. However, the live virus vaccine can cause outbreaks. If you have a true concern about unvaccinated people coming into contact with your child you will have to avoid all public spaces. Most adults are not up to date. And many adults no longer have immunity even if they were vaccinated. The immunity is not lifelong - it wanes over time.
Anonymous
December 24, 2019
I would welcome this discussion with another parent. Let's start with the risks posed by injecting a vaccine. I would read the vaccine insert and assess the risks of vaccinating or not. In the case of the MMR vaccine, the manufacturer discloses that the MMR vaccine can cause diabetes, a lifelong chronic illness requiring insulin, a very expensive drug. Those with diabetes live an average of 15 years LESS than those without it. I had measles as a child and it was a mild disease. I fully recovered, as most do, and got to stay home from school for a week. We would also talk about legislation passed by the US Congress in 1986 that removed product liability from vaccines. So if your kid is one of the victims of a vaccine injury, for example they get Type I Diabetes (known and disclosed by the manufacturer in its product insert) the manufacturer had no legal responsibility to pay for the harm their products caused. So you want me to give my child a pharmaceutical product which can kill or disable them because you're afraid of a mild, self limiting disease? By the way, the vaccine has a high failure rate, meaning it doesn't always prevent the disease. Many vaccines cause the recipient to shed the vaccine virus, creating a literal Typhoid Mary. Safety testing is inadequate or absent with every vaccine. As someone who loves my children and takes the utmost care of their health, I welcome knowing that your children have been recently vaccinated so that I can protect my children from the diseases they are shedding. #GoodLuckWithYourVaccines