In the desperate fight against COVID-19, the most time, attention, and resources have been devoted to developing a brand new coronavirus vaccine. But according to investigators Jeffrey Gold and Larry Tilley of the World Organization, an existing vaccine for a completely different disease may also provide essential protection against COVID-19.
In a study published on March 29, 2020, Gold and Tilley assert that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine “appears to confer strong protection from COVID-19”. Could this well-established vaccine prove to be a key element to combating this pandemic?
The History of the MMR Vaccine
The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was developed and licensed in the United States in 1968. Before the vaccine was available, nearly all children got the measles before their 16th birthday, tens of thousands were hospitalized, and hundreds died from the disease.
The CDC set a goal to eliminate the measles from the United States by 1982. Though this goal was not achieved, the number of reported measles cases decreased by 80% from 1980 to 1981 thanks to the vaccine. The disease was finally declared as eliminated from the U.S in 2000.
Today, the CDC recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine. The first is given between 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age.
Could MMR Vaccine Be Responsible For Lower Mortality in Patients Under Age 50?
According to epidemiological data collected by the World Organization, there may be a “correlation between patients who receive measles-rubella containing vaccines such as the commonly available MMR vaccine, and reduced COVID-19 death rate.”
The data reveal “a clearly defined fatality rate pivot point close to 50 years old.” Though the fatality rate of COVID-19 only increases slightly from birth to age 49, it climbs quickly and steadily after age 50. Though this could be attributed to many different causes, it’s unique behavior compared to most other diseases.
Considering that the MMR vaccine was most commonly given as a single vaccination from 1971 to 1978, then as a set of two vaccinations at least 28 days apart starting in 1979, it can be estimated that “most people today aged 49 and under would likely have had at least one MMR vaccination, and those 41 and under would most likely have had two MMR vaccinations.”
The World Organization and University of Cambridge both believe the data indicate that “this vaccine history may be a possible explanation for a COVID-19 death rate pivot point close to age 50.”
Published research also supports this theory. In Madagascar, for example, 7.2 million of its citizens were vaccinated with the measles- and rubella-containing vaccines (MRCV) in 2019. As of May 4, 2020, there have been no COVID-19 deaths in Madagascar at all.
Hong Kong also instituted a free MMR vaccination program for all infants through 19-year-olds and all adults, especially healthcare workers and airport staff. This program continued into 2020. Despite being the fourth most dense country in the world and being located less than 600 miles away from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong has recorded only four deaths from COVID-19 as of May 3, 2020.
These numbers are dramatically different than in Belgium, the country with the highest COVID-19 death rate in the entire world. Belgium did not introduce the MMR vaccine until 1985, and health officials didn’t recommend two doses per person until 1995. Italy is also known for its low MRCV rate, which could explain the unusually high COVID-19 death rate it has endured.
The bottom line? According to Tilley, “The epidemiological data in our study when considered alongside the biological evidence from the University of Cambridge makes it clear: commonly available MMR vaccinations could be the key to preventing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic this fall.”