Common MMR Vaccine May Help Prevent Severe COVID-19 Complications

Getting a common childhood vaccine may help adult patients avoid severe complications from COVID-19. That is according to a new study that found live attenuated vaccines, like the one for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), could boost the immune system to protect the lungs and manage blood problems.

The paper, published online on mBio, shows that the already existing vaccines could prevent severe lung inflammation and lethal sepsis or blood poisoning linked to the coronavirus disease. They provide protection by activating certain immune cells that train the white blood cells of the immune system, called leukocytes, to fight infections.

Those cells, called myeloid-derived suppressor cells, have long been linked to lower risk of septic inflammation and mortality, researchers said. 

“The use of childhood live attenuated vaccines such as MMR given to adults to induce bystander cells 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,” study author Paul Fidel Jr., director of the Center of Excellence in Oral and Craniofacial Biology and associate dean for research at LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry, said in a statement

However, he noted that the people who received MMR vaccination as a child may not get the same benefits to date. People should get the vaccine again as adults to get the protection against COVID-related complications. 

It is also important to know that the study does not suggest that MMR vaccine can directly help treat the coronavirus infection. The researchers said it only works as an immune preventive measure against the health problems caused by COVID-19.

“We suggest adults working in high-risk settings who are not immunocompromised, pregnant or allergic to vaccinations, get an MMR vaccine/booster,” Fidel said. “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.”

There are now separate clinical trials ongoing in Australia, Europe and the United States to see how live attenuated vaccines can help patients recover faster from coronavirus. The studies also include the live attenuated tuberculosis (TB) vaccine.

Vaccine

U.S. military personnel provide vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Matthew Lotz