Will your old measles shot protect you from new outbreaks?

By Cynthia McCormick Hibbert

Public health officials are warning people about the danger of remaining unvaccinated against measles as the number of cases so far this year has surpassed the caseload for 2023.

“It’s concerning. The areas where we’ve seen some of the biggest outbreaks of measles are areas with low vaccination rates,” says Neil Maniar, director of Northeastern’s Master of Public Health program. 

In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that this year it has seen 64 cases of measles in 17 states, which is six more cases than occurred the previous year. The cases occurred mainly in children 12 months and older who had not been immunized against measles, prompting the CDC to issue a health alert urging adherence to pediatric vaccination schedules. 

But how about people who got their measles shots years and even decades ago? Will they still be immunized against the highly contagious virus if outbreaks continue to proliferate?

If it’s been ages since you’ve received your measles vaccine, “you probably don’t have circulating antibodies at this point,” although you likely still harbor “memory B cells” that can respond to an infection quickly, Northeastern professor Brandon Dionne says.

As measles cases rise across the globe, researchers are taking a closer look at a vaccine long considered to offer lifelong immunity.