Having been vaccinated against common illnesses such as measles, mumps and rubella may confer some protection against severe inflammatory illness caused by COVID-19, according to new research from Tulane and Louisiana State Universities.
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a type of live attenuated vaccine, which means it contains a small amount of a weakened live virus. Other types of live attenuated vaccines include chicken pox, rotavirus, smallpox and yellow fever, along with Mycobacterium bovis BCG, a tuberculosis (TB) vaccine.
The Louisiana researchers cited what they say is increasing evidence that these vaccines may help prevent the damaging lung inflammation and sepsis associated with severe COVID-19 infection. In a laboratory demonstration, they showed that live attenuated vaccines can train nonspecific “bystander” cells in the body’s immune system to also defend it against unrelated infections.
They stressed that while the live attenuated vaccine concept is not in any way suggested to be directed against COVID-19, it could be added as an immune preventive measure against the serious inflammatory symptoms which often result from the virus.
“The use of childhood live attenuated vaccines such as MMR given to adults … that can dampen or reduce severe complications associated with COVID-19 infection is a low risk-high reward preventive measure during a critical period of the pandemic,” said Paul Fidel, Ph.D., a professor at LSU and one of the study’s authors.
Fidel also noted that at least six clinical trials have been initiated in Europe, Australia, and the US to test vaccination with Mycobacterium bovis BCG vaccine in health care workers at high risk of getting COVID-19, to determine whether it may provide some protection.
“While we initiate the clinical trials and animal model studies to test the hypothesis … we suggest (that) adults working in high-risk settings who are not immunocompromised, pregnant or allergic to vaccinations, get an MMR vaccine/booster,” he advised. “If we’re correct, an MMR-vaccinated person may suffer less if infected with COVID-19. If we’re wrong, the person has better immunity to measles, mumps, and rubella … A sort of no harm no foul action.”