Scientists say MMR vaccine could protect against COVID-19

Posted at 11:50 AM, Aug 17, 2020

Researchers around the world are trying to learn as much as possible about COVID-19, while reaching for a vaccine, cure or other treatment. Some recent studies are looking at vaccines we already have in our arsenal.

"It has been known for years that some vaccines can offer protection against diseases that they're not targeting against. Probably the best example is the BCG vaccine, which is used to try to prevent tuberculosis. It can prevent people from acquiring malaria," said Andrew Badley, the Chair of the Mayo Clinic COVID Research Task Force.

Researchers have come up with theories as to why one vaccine would also protect against an entirely unrelated virus. Badley says the best theory is called immune training – that is your body, in preparing to defend itself from one disease, unintentionally protects it from another.

"So, with that as our basis and understanding, we did a similar analysis here with our Mayo Clinic data. What we did is we compared the rates of test positivity for COVID between those who've had vaccines and those who haven't had vaccines and stratified that according to vaccine type," explained Badley.

What they found was that specifically, the MMR vaccines--which protects against measles mumps and rubella, as well as the flu vaccine and several others--had a protective effect against getting COVID-19. As for further implications for what this research could mean when it comes to COVID-19, Badley said, "certainly there will be numerous studies looking at all of the things we've talked about in the future, including the immune response."

Some further research on the MMR vaccine and COVID-19 has prompted hypotheses that the reason many children aren't more susceptible to COVID-19 is because they've had their vaccines more recently than adults. The Mayo Clinic says there's no definitive answer as to whether that's true.

Dr. Roy Benaroch, a pediatrician in the Atlanta, Georgia area, says the key takeaway from this research is that children and adults should be sure they're up to date on all recommended vaccinations.

"Certainly, it's true that vaccines overall will help protect children, will help keep them healthy. We’re also hopeful that vaccines that prevent things like influenza and pneumonia can also contribute to helping us get through this COVID crisis because some kids get secondary infections when they get COVID-19," said Dr. Benaroch.

The Mayo Clinic agrees, saying people should remain vigilant when it comes to maintaining their health.

"Should you rush out and get extra vaccines? No, not at all. You should rush out and see your healthcare provider and update your health maintenance and if that means you are not updated on your flu or MMR, you should get it," said Badley.

Experts agree that vaccines are a great way to help your body fight off diseases during this time.

"This exciting new research and new angle is looking at sort of a non-specific effect of some vaccines, that they seem to prevent some viral infections that aren’t even included in the vaccine. It's kind of an extra boost to your immune system that seems to occur with at least some vaccines that are on the current schedule," said Dr. Benaroch.

"We have every reason to expect that if you get influenza, you’re more likely to get COVID and you’re more likely to have a serious outcome if you do get COVID. So, that in addition to what we’ve just talked about, together suggests that everyone should get their flu vaccine this fall, as well as their regularly scheduled vaccines," said Badley.

The next steps in the Mayo Clinic's research include looking in greater detail at the immune response and epidemiology of the MMR and influenza vaccines and how they could possibly protect against the novel coronavirus.