Potential cross-reactivity between MMR vaccinations and COVID-19

With the current COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world, not much in everyday life remains the same. Economies from the largest to the smallest have been rocked. Government lockdowns have been undertaken, the likes of which have never been experienced in the modern world. With the virus originating in Wuhan, China, several questions remain:

How has the virus spread so rapidly across the globe?

How long are incubation rates?

What is the most accurate testing method?

How much time is needed to develop a safe and effective vaccine?

And, of course, how and when to reopen our communities?

In time, many of these questions will be researched and answered, but along the way some trends have become noteworthy. For instance, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has affected some groups worse than others and this necessitates further investigation as to why. I was made aware of research being done by Dr. Larry Tilley, DVM, a world-renowned expert in veterinary medicine research, Dr. William Baumgartl, MD, MSME, director of Stem Cell Therapies at Nevada Spine Center, and Jeffrey Gold, a computer science and data analyst. Their paper hypothesizes the reason for higher rates of morbidity and mortality in older versus younger patients suffering from COVID-19.

They note other trends as well. Women seem to be statistically less likely to die from the disease than men. Pacific Islanders and Asian cultures appear less impacted by the virus and appear to have a higher resistance. They cite, Japan, a country of over 126 million, reported 16,325 cases with less than 800 deaths. Mongolia, a nation of 5 million, has only 42 confirmed cases and zero deaths. Whereas Italy, France, Germany, and Spain have had a much higher incidence in morbidity and mortality.

Their research found a possible link in protection against COVID-19 between individuals that received measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations and those who did not. They found that the younger population – those under 50 – were the first group to be vaccinated with one dose of MMR vaccine between 1971-1978. From 1979 forward, there were generally two vaccination doses given. Also, women contemplating pregnancy tended to receive additional MMR boosters. Observation of this relationship was also reported in a University of Cambridge study, which reported a 29 percent commonality between the spike proteins of rubella and the SARS-CoV-2 virus, critical for viral penetration of target cells, suggesting that the MMR vaccine may protect against COVID-19.

There are other observations they cite which suggests a relation between MMR vaccination and a decreased rate of morbidity and mortality. First, the U.S. military requires MMR vaccinations for all service members when entering service. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Roosevelt had a COVID-19 outbreak on board in February of this year. As of April 24, there were 840 individuals who tested positive and one death out of approximately 4,200 sailors. Of those individuals who tested positive, only seven required hospital care and none are currently in the ICU. The second point is countries around the world that initiated the most stringent MMR vaccination programs versus those that did not have had less morbidity and mortality, following the trend. These observations hint at the possibility of cross-protection generated by the MMR vaccines against COVID-19.

As countries and people around the world await a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, I believe the scientific community and government experts directing the response to COVID-19 need to analyze these findings. If this research can be verified, it may be possible to initiate a rapid MMR vaccination program for the most vulnerable populations and follow that with an effective and safe coronavirus vaccine once it is available. There are many lives that hang in the balance, and research like this could show us a path to saving numerous individuals across the globe.

Ted S. Yoho, DVM, represents Florida’s 3rd District.


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