It was interesting to read that 48,000 hospitalizations, 4,000 cases of encephalitis, and 400 to 500 deaths are of little consequence, according to the writer of "Vaccines add new kinds of risks" [Letters, May 15]. These are the government's annual statistics for measles victims before the introduction of the vaccine in 1963. The writer apparently believes that these statistics are acceptable. I must disagree.

We have clear data that measles actually weakens the immune system, putting survivors at risk for other infectious diseases, as well as complications from the disease itself. As countries have introduced measles vaccination campaigns, childhood mortality from all infectious diseases, not just measles, dropped by 50 percent in those countries.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In the United States, before the measles vaccination in the mid-1960s, 15 children in every 100,000 died of infectious diseases -- not counting measles. After the vaccine eradicated measles from the population, that death rate dropped to six children in every 100,000.

The California measles outbreak in December occurred because individuals were not vaccinated. The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is safe and effective, according to study after study. We must vaccinate or face returning to the days of measles running wild in the United States, causing thousands to live with its aftereffects, not to mention the financial burden placed on the already depleted resources of the public health system.

Mary Koslap-Petraco, Amityville

Editor's note: The writer is a pediatric nurse practitioner and vice president of Nurses Who Vaccinate, an advocacy organization.