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By Shamard Charles, M.D. and Caroline Radnofsky
Some adolescents who have never been vaccinated against diseases such as measles or chicken pox are questioning the movement against vaccines, even when health officials condemn parents who decided not to vaccinate their children for a measles outbreak in 10 states.
One of those teenagers is Mayci, an 18-year-old from Augusta, Georgia, who went to Reddit to ask for advice about vaccination after learning of the measles outbreak.
Mayci, who asked that her last name not be included because she is worried about bothering her mother, had never been vaccinated. The reason? The position of her mother, "vaccines are bad, this is something we do not do, leave it alone," the teenager told NBC News.
"At the time I was born, my parents accepted the vaccination," Mayci said. "Almost a year and a half ago, I moved from my mother's house and left with my father. My father has a fairly neutral opinion about vaccines from now on, but when I was born, he simply agreed with the beliefs of my mother and her family. "
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 101 cases of measles. Fifty-five of them were in the state of Washington, the epicenter of the outbreak. Almost all cases occurred in children under 10 whose parents had opted not to vaccinate them.
While growing up, Mayci thought that her mother's negative opinions about vaccines were normal. Her mother used a religious exemption so that Mayci was not required to be vaccinated at school, and she told her friends to do the same.
"When I was 12 years old, I remember all my classmates saying:" I hated receiving my vaccines, "Mayci said. "I asked them:" What do you mean you had to receive vaccines to enter the school? "
Georgia is one of 17 states that allows non-medical exemptions from the immunization requirements to go to school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Currently, 47 states allow for religious exemptions and, since 2009, the number of exemptions to "philosophical beliefs" vaccines granted to state departments has increased in 12 of the 18 states that currently allow this policy.
"What we're seeing are pockets of intense anti-vaccine activity," said Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Waco, Texas. "A public social opposition vaccine movement has been growing in the United States in recent years. Subsequently, outbreaks of measles have also increased. "
Experts believe that this is one of the reasons why hot spots have appeared against vaccination such as Clark County, Washington. But doctors and nurses say the recent outbreak is causing people to get vaccinated. The Washington State Department of Health says that approximately 530 people were immunized against measles in January 2018. This January, there were more than 3,000 immunizations.
Because vaccination is a medical procedure, in most cases, adolescents under the age of 18 need the consent of a parent, guardian or other adult member of the family.
When Mayci was 17, she talked to her father about receiving the vaccine when she turned 18.
"Honestly, he just said that I am old enough to make my own medical decisions, he supports my judgment," Mayci said. "The fact that I work in a doctor's office has allowed me to really educate myself about the myths and truths about vaccines."
In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the United States, thanks to the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, which has been part of childhood routine vaccines for decades. Measles is a highly contagious disease, but people who receive adequate doses of the vaccine rarely get it, even if they are exposed.
Two doses of the vaccine, from 1 year to 15 months of age and a second dose of 4 to 6 years, provide protection of about 97 percent. Very few of those who receive both doses of the measles vaccine will still receive measles if they are exposed to the virus, even if it is a milder form of the disease. The experts are not sure why.
The recent measles outbreak is a reminder that immunity from the herd, which occurs when enough people are vaccinated against an infectious disease to protect others in the community that are not, has been broken in some communities.
So far, Mayci has received the TDAP vaccine and a flu shot. She plans to receive the MMR vaccine, along with injections against HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and varicella later this year.
"I graduated from high school in May and plan to specialize in clinical laboratory science at the university," he said. "Because it is a field of health science, I absolutely have to have the required vaccines."