A study has claimed that the MMR vaccine may protect some people from severe Covid-19.
Researchers from the University of Georgia say that jab, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, can also prevent people from catching coronavirus.
They found a 29 percent lower chance of severe Covid-19 among those who had MMR jab as a child.
All children in the UK are offered the vaccine and around 91 per cent are currently being vaccinated on their second birthday.
In the study, people with the highest levels of antibodies specific for mumps were ‘immune’ from Covid-19, the researchers claim. Antibodies are substances produced by the immune system to destroy invading viruses and bacteria.
The same effect was not seen for antibodies specific for measles or rubella, which are targeted to the same vaccine.
The participants had lived close to people who were ill with Covid-1
The results may explain why children only seem to get mild illness, if any at all, when they catch coronavirus. MMR jab is given to all infants from nine months old and again before they are six years old, so the effects of it are still very fresh in their bodies.
This is not the first time the theory has been hovered by scientists who have also recognized continents with ‘measles-free status’, including Africa and Asia, have had fewer Covid-19 deaths.
A separate team at Cambridge University found key proteins in measles, mumps and rubella viruses have similarities to proteins on the surface of coronavirus.
In theory, this would mean that the body of a person vaccinated against MMR recognizes coronavirus when it invades and can quickly mount an immune response.
The University of Georgia study found that individuals with the highest levels of antibodies to mumps showed signs of immunity to coronavirus, while serious illness was more likely among groups with mumps antibodies low.
After a number of researchers speculated that MMR is protective against Covid-19, researchers tested the theory on a group of 80 Americans.
The majority had tested positive for coronavirus, where their diseases range from mild or no symptoms to requiring a ventilator in intensive care. Each person received a score from 1 to 30 for the severity of their infection.
The group was divided into 50 people who had received the MMR jab as a child and 30 who had not.
The researchers then compared levels of antibodies specific for mumps, measles and rubella among all participants.
Antibodies are part of the immune system that help clear up an infection. They are produced either when a person is infected or when they receive a vaccine, so the next time a virus comes, the body is prepared to produce antibodies specifically to fight it.
Therefore, volunteers in the study had antibodies to MMR either because they had been vaccinated or had previously been exposed to the diseases throughout their lives.
The main result of the study was that those with a particularly strong antibody response with mumps were less likely to suffer from severe Covid-19.
However, this was only seen in those whose antibodies came from vaccination, as opposed to those who had actually had the disease.
The researchers said that this was probably because ‘the underlying antibodies that can protect against Covid-19 may have decreased beyond the protection levels’.
COULD MMR JAB PROTECT AGAINST COVID-19?
Researchers have debated whether MMR-jab offers some form of protection against Covid-19 based on a number of observations.
In April, experts from the University of Cambridge analyzed structures for MMR diseases – measles, mumps and rubella – and coronavirus to see if there were any similarities.
They found some unexpected similarities between proteins on the coronavirus surface and those of measles, mumps and rubella.
In theory, this would mean that an MMR-vaccinated person had ‘cross-reactive’ protection against Covid-19. If their body recognizes coronavirus proteins after seeing similar from the MMR vaccine, they may be able to mount a response quickly.
But this has not been proven, and it is too early to say whether this is the case.
Writing in the study before it was peer-reviewed, the researchers said: ‘We assume that MMR could protect against poor outcome in Covid-19 infection.
‘We therefore suggest that vaccination of at-risk age groups with an MMR vaccination deserves further consideration as a timely and safe intervention.’
Some publications have suggested that the BCG vaccine, which protects against tuberculosis and is given to those thought to be at risk of the disease, may also prevent Covid-19.
But Professor Adam Young and colleagues at Cambridge University said MMR jabs may be behind the effects because vaccination levels of BCG and MMR are similar.
They also suggested that countries with high uptake of the MMR vaccine have been protected from severe Covid-19 outbreaks.
This was repeated by a paper from researchers in California, including from Stanford University, who said that mass vaccination programs in some countries may explain why countries have done differently than coronavirus.
Measles has been eradicated through extensive MMR vaccination programs in the western Pacific region as well as parts of Asia and throughout Africa, the team wrote.
In contrast, MMR vaccination programs have been problematic in the United States, the rest of America and Europe – all of which have seen devastatingly high Covid-19 cases and deaths.
In Europe, measles is no longer considered extinct in Britain, Albania, the Czech Republic or Greece. However, only the UK has been hit hard by the pandemic.
In their paper, the team wrote: ‘While travel constraints, living conditions control and government intervention play roles in managing the Covid-19 spread, it is possible that MMR vaccination programs are the basis of the enormous international variation.’
A high level of antibodies against measles or rubella did not appear to offer ‘cross-protection’ against Covid-19, despite previous studies suggesting that this was the case.
Antibodies are measured in ‘titers’; the higher the titer level, the more someone is protected against a virus.
The results are given as arbitrary units per Milliliters (AU / ml) with mumps titers scored between 0 and 300.
Each patient in the MMR vaccination group who had been hospitalized and needed ventilation for Covid-19 had very low mumps titers – below 32 AU / ml.
Those with mild symptoms had a measurement of 134 AU / ml or less, while those with no symptoms had the maximum titers of 134 to 300 AU / ml.
Ten people in the vaccinated group had not tested positive for coronavirus, but had been in extremely close contact with a case for several days without the use of face masks or social distance.
They were described as ‘functionally immune’ and had the highest antibodies of all participants in the study (mean 172.4 AU / ml), indicating that they were completely protected against the virus.
The lead author of the study, Jeffrey E. Gold, president of the World Organization, in Watkinsville, said: ‘This adds other associations showing that the MMR vaccine can be protective against Covid-19.
‘It may also explain why children have a much lower Covid-19 case than adults as well as a much lower death rate.
‘Most children get their first MMR vaccination around 12 to 15 months and another from four to six years.’
Antibodies fade over time, but can still offer protection against viruses.
The researchers found that a child has antibodies during mumps below 134 AU / ml at the age of 14 years. It is at the same age that coronavirus prevalence increases sharply, they said.
In the United States, there have been 65 percent more Covid-19 cases diagnosed in babies under one year compared to those over two years, which may be related to the fact that infants receive their first MMR dose after 12 months, it was claimed.
Co-author Dr. David J. Hurley, professor and molecular microbiologist at the University of Georgia, said: ‘This is the first immunological study to assess the relationship between the MMR II vaccine and Covid-19.
‘The statistically significant inverse correlation between mumps titers and Covid-19 indicates that there is a factor involved that warrants further study.
The MMR II vaccine is considered a safe vaccine with very few side effects. If it has the ultimate benefit of preventing infection from COVID-19, preventing the spread of COVID-19, reducing the severity of it or a combination of one or more of these, it is a very high reward with low risk intervention. ‘
Dr Hurley suggested that adults over the age of 40 should get the MMR jab if they have never had it, whether or not they still have antibodies to the diseases.
‘It would be wise to vaccinate them over the age of 40,’ he said.
The mean age of those in the vaccination group in the study was much younger than those in the non-vaccinated group – 30 years compared to 57.
This may have skewed the results, as age is the strongest risk factor for Covid-19 severity.
However, the researchers suggested that they could not get around this, given that those who have not had the MMR vaccine tend to be older because triple jab was only introduced in the early 1970s.
They write in their paper: ‘Age differentiation was the only way to accurately distinguish people who definitely had previous MMR II vaccinations from those who had not.’
This is not the first time researchers have proposed vaccinating vulnerable people with MMR-jab to protect them from Covid-19.
A team at Cambridge University found in April that part of the coronavirus’ structure resembles mumps, measles and rubella.
Although untested, this suggests that coronavirus will not be unknown to the body of a person with the MMR vaccine and they would be able to quickly mount an immune response.
In their paper, the team wrote: ‘We therefore suggest that vaccination of “at risk” age groups with an MMR vaccination deserves further consideration as an appropriate time and safe intervention.’
They also suggested that Europe, the US and America have suffered a lot during the Covid-19 pandemic because it has been more difficult to drive MMR vaccine uptake.
MMR vaccine uptake is below the 95 per cent that health experts say is required for herd immunity in the UK.
But last year, the proportion receiving their first dose in the UK rose to 90.6 per cent after peaking at 92.7 per cent in 2013/14.
Two doses of the vaccine are required to ensure full protection against measles, and the coverage after five years was 94.5 percent in 2019, the same as the year before.