What the Recent Chicago Measles Outbreak Reveals about Childhood Vaccines

A top Chicago pediatrician and mom of three discusses why childhood vaccinations are so important for your child.

As a new parent, one of the initial milestones is your baby’s first series of vaccinations. While this may cause some anxiety, a Chicago doctor emphasizes that the brief discomfort for your child brings significant health benefits.

“Vaccines are the most successful public health intervention in the history of humankind,” says Dr. Marielle Fricchione, a pediatrician and infectious diseases specialist at Rush Children’s Hospital.  

The lifesaving power of childhood vaccinations

Dr. Fricchione wants to reassure parents that common childhood vaccines are not only a crucial protection for kids, but they have years of research to back up their safety and efficacy. 

Childhood Vaccine Schedules and Why They Matter
Photo Credit: Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

“Vaccines, particularly those for children, have undergone extensive testing and monitoring, making them among the safest and most effective medical interventions available,” she says. “We are fortunate to live in a country with a robust safety structure around vaccines. The data supporting their safety and efficacy is overwhelming.”

Protecting against measles

One compelling reason to vaccinate children is prevention of measles, a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. Dr. Fricchione’s experience in public health, including her work during a recent measles outbreak in Chicago, underscores the importance of vaccination.

“During this outbreak, we saw firsthand the severe consequences of measles. Children were hospitalized, suffering from high fevers, rashes and dehydration. Beyond the immediate symptoms, measles can lead to long-term complications like subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a fatal brain disorder that can develop years after the initial infection.”

The recent measles outbreak in Chicago was stopped from a more significant spread due to vaccines, says Dr. Fricchione. “The quick action taken by the city to vaccinate at-risk people kept measles from spreading even further. Even one dose of a measles vaccine offers helpful protection.”

Vaccination doesn’t just protect the individual child. “Measles is one of the most infectious diseases we encounter,” Dr. Fricchione says. “When enough people are protected or immune to a disease, it stops it from spreading, this is called herd immunity. For herd immunity to be effective, at least 94% of the population need to be immune. This high threshold is crucial to prevent outbreaks.”

“Community immunity” and the consequences of declining vaccination rates

If vaccination rates continue to decline, the consequences could be dire for individual children and the community at large, says Dr. Fricchione. “We have seen vaccine hesitancy lead to outbreaks. Without sufficient immunization, diseases like measles can spread rapidly, putting vulnerable populations, such as children with cancer and others who cannot be vaccinated, at great risk.”

Dr. Fricchione advises parents to consider not just their own child’s health but the health of the community. “Everywhere your child goes, they interact with different large and small communities — school, their neighborhood, grandparents, even the community within your own home. Ensuring high vaccination rates means preventing outbreaks that could affect anyone.”

While some may call this “herd immunity,” Dr. Fricchione prefers the term “community immunity.” 

“‘Community immunity’ emphasizes the interconnectedness and collective responsibility of individuals within various communities to protect each other. Particularly, individuals like children with cancer or those who are immunocompromised or too young to be vaccinated.” 

Unfortunately, vaccination rates have declined in some areas, partly due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Fricchione stresses the urgency of catching up on missed vaccinations. “We are in a high-risk time with children’s vaccinations. It’s essential to get up to date before school starts and ensure our community is protected.”

Addressing vaccine hesitancy

Dr. Fricchione acknowledges that every parent has unique concerns and experiences with the medical system. 

“It’s important to build a trusting relationship with families and understand their worries,” she says. “As a mother myself, I empathize with the parents’ fears. Sharing personal stories and reassuring them about the rigorous safety standards of vaccines can help.”

Dr. Fricchione’s youngest child, a daughter, was born prematurely and unable to receive key vaccines for some time. “I was so worried about my daughter being vulnerable. As a doctor, I know how serious some diseases can be.”

Dr. Fricchione emphasizes that making the decision to vaccinate is about choosing to protect one’s child from preventable diseases. “There is so much we can’t control as parents, but vaccination is something we can do to ensure our children’s health. It’s about peace of mind, knowing that you’ve done everything possible to keep them safe.”

Separating misconceptions and facts

One of the most common misconceptions about vaccines is that they are riskier than the diseases they prevent. Dr. Fricchione points to the extensive research and data available

“We have decreased and before COVID, nearly eliminated so many childhood diseases in this country that it’s hard for parents to judge the danger of diseases they haven’t seen firsthand. But the data is clear: vaccines are much safer than the diseases they prevent.”

She also notes that, “Vaccines save millions of children’s lives globally every year. Millions! They also prevent suffering, long-term health issues, missed school and so much more. As pediatricians, we are so grateful to be able to recommend vaccines— because we know they make a difference.”

Building trust and making informed choices

For parents who are still unsure, Dr. Fricchione advises having an open and honest conversation with their child’s pediatrician. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and express your concerns. We understand that this is a significant decision, and we are here to support you. We share the same goal and that’s to help you raise a happy, healthy, thriving child!”

By fostering trust and providing clear, evidence-based information, Dr. Fricchione hopes to help parents make informed choices about vaccinating their children. “We all want the best for our kids. Vaccinating them is one of the most important steps we can take to protect their health and ensure they have a bright future.”

For more information about children’s health in Illinois, visit illinoisaap.org/

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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