New York allowing an early MMR vaccine shot for infants amid measles outbreak

Allowing infants to get an extra, early dose of the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine is the latest tool to help curtail the growing measles epidemic in the United States.

The CDC recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine. The first dose is given when the child is between 12 months and 15 months of old and the second dose is given between 4 and 6 years of age.

But the New York State Health Department is advising doctors in affected areas to inform parents of the option of giving an infant an early dose of the vaccine.

"When you're in an outbreak situation with a very contagious disease, you really want to make sure you get protection to as many people as possible," said Dr. Jeffrey Avner, the chair of pediatrics at Maimonides Children's Hospital in Borough Park, Brooklyn. 

As he explained it, doctors do not typically administer the vaccine in a non-outbreak environment before a child is a year old because the baby still carries a passive immunity from their mother. 

That immunity, in the form of antibodies, can attack or, as he puts it, "stick" to the vaccine and prevent a robust response to the measles virus.

However, in an outbreak, all bets are off. Avner said he believes a reduced immunity is still better than being completely unvaccinated.

Maimonides alone has treated 10 measles cases. 

Vaccines are a topic of great debate, especially in certain communities. 

"Vaccines are very safe and effective," Avner said, adding that he discourages patients from succumbing to the misinformation or debunked myths that make the rounds on the internet. 

"It's okay for parents to be concerned. It's appropriate to ask questions. But what's happening now is that there's a flood of misinformation and that's really scaring people," Avner said. "The only benefit that does make the people who are anti-vaccine feel better but doesn't protect children or community." 

More than 600 cases of measles have been confirmed in New York State since October. This outbreak, which has now spread coast to coast, is the worst the U.S. has seen in 25 years, according to the CDC.

Parents should note that the extra dose of MMR should not replace the other two rounds of immunization. It is meant to add an additional layer of protection.