Could the MMR vaccine help protect against coronavirus complications? Cambridge University scientists say the jab could help because the infections ‘share similar proteins’
- Statistics show that people over the age of 65 are most likely to die of COVID-19
- MMR vaccination began in the UK in the 1960s, meaning older people missed it
- Scientists at Cambridge said coronavirus and rubella are 29 per cent the same
- They found evidence of higher rubella immunity in recovered COVID patients
- Suggest their findings mean ‘a study is warranted’ into a connection
- Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine could protect people from severe COVID-19, according to scientists.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge said the jab could protect people because the rubella virus has a similar structure to SARS-CoV-2.
They pointed out that middle-aged and older people are less likely to have had the jabs, which came out in the 1960s, and are also most at risk from the coronavirus.
And blood testing done in an NHS hospital found that patients who had severe COVID-19 appeared to have developed ‘non-specific’ immune responses which could also have protected them from rubella.
The team have no proof that the MMR vaccine has any impact on COVID-19 patients but said ‘a study is warranted’.
Their research comes as the Government today announced the UK will start trials of its first coronavirus vaccine candidate later this week.
The UK is trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine but researchers say trying to muster up some level of protection using one that might already work could save time (stock image)
Writing in a paper published online without being checked by other scientists or journal editors, the Cambridge researchers said: ‘We suggest that MMR will not prevent COVID-19 infection but could potentially reduce poor outcome.’
The researchers, led by Professor Robin Franklin and Dr Yorgo Modis, suggest that structural similarities between the coronavirus and rubella could be one way in which the vaccine is protective.
When they analysed the two viruses they found that they were 29 per cent identical and there are ‘known similarities’ between coronaviruses and paramyxoviruses, of which rubella is a type.
A COVID-19 vaccine developed at the University of Oxford will be trialled on humans in the UK from Thursday this week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today said he was ‘throwing everything at’ Britain’s attempt to develop the first vaccine in the world.
The Government will give the scientists an extra £20million to help with their trials, Mr Hancock said, and a further £22.5m to a project at Imperial College London.
The Oxford vaccine, known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 will be trialled on up to 510 people out of a group of 1,112 aged 18 to 55. It is recruiting volunteers in London, Bristol, Oxford and Southampton.
It is the first British-made vaccine to go into real-world trials and carries with it huge hopes that it will provide a key to getting out of lockdown and banishing COVID-19.
The virus has now infected more than 125,000 people and killed 17,339 in the UK and the UK is on course to end up one of the worst-hit nations in the world.
Mr Hancock said developing vaccines is an ‘uncertain science’ which usually takes years but that manufacturing capacity will be ramped up in case the jab is a success and is suitable to roll out to the public.
The trial will take six months and is limited to a small number of people so scientists can assess whether it is safe and effective without using huge amounts of resources – each patient must return for between four and 11 visits after the jab – and without the risk of large numbers of people being affected if something goes wrong.
Because of this, if someone has developed immune system antibodies able to fight off rubella, they may also be able to partly fight off COVID-19, the scientists said.
This could happen if the body was forced to develop antibodies targeted at one virus but also able to latch onto another.
The team said molecules found on the COVID coronavirus had been found to bind to rubella antibodies in past studies.
In a bid to further back up their claim, the scientists turned to links between vaccination rates and deaths from COVID-19.
MMR is now given routinely to children in the UK and around 92 per cent of children now get their first dose by their second birthday.
Rates vary around the world, however, and MMR is one of the most controversial jabs among anti-vaxxers after a now-disgraced scientist falsely claimed it was linked to autism.
MMR was introduced in 1963 in the UK, and people born before that may have had individual vaccines for the three diseases or no vaccination at all.
People born before this time – over the age of 55 – are in the highest risk age group for dying of coronavirus, and can also be reasonably assumed to have the lowest vaccination rates, the researchers point out.
In England and Wales, for example, data published today revealed that 87 per cent of all people who have died of the coronavirus have been over the age of 65.
A total 10,808 people out of 12,380 victims recorded by April 10 were older than that, and 60 per cent of victims were male.
They pointed out that the trend – that older men are at most risk of dying if they catch the coronavirus – could be seen in Germany, Spain and Italy.
The researchers also found that older men were less likely to be immune to rubella than other groups.
In the study they wrote: ‘We recognise that these data are, at this stage, preliminary and that there are a number of limitations…
‘Nevertheless, older populations and males are both more likely to die from COVID-19, and less likely to [test positive] for rubella specific immunity, based on historical vaccination programmes of all three countries considered in this study.
‘In order to conclude whether MMR vaccination can improve the outcomes from COVID-19 infection, a study using individual based data to compare MMR immunity status in the affected population is warranted.’
COULD THE BCG JAB PROTECT AGAINST COVID-19?
Countries that have a widespread BCG vaccination programme have a COVID-19 death rate much lower than nations that do not use it, a study has claimed.
The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine was invented a century ago and gives immunity to tuberculosis (TB) — a bacterial infection — but it is known to have other benefits.
Previous trials discovered people that receive the jab, which costs as little as £30, have improved immune systems and are able to protect themselves from infection.
For example, in a trial among Native Americans, BCG vaccination in childhood was able to offer protection against TB up to 60 years after vaccination.
The precise way this durable vaccine helps fend off other infections is relatively unknown but it may be by boosting the immune system’s innate mechanisms.
These so-called off-target effects include enhanced protection against respiratory diseases, and have been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the UK, all schoolchildren between ten and 14 were injected with the vaccine between 1953 and 2005.
As TB infection rates dropped, doctors abandoned mass vaccination and, in 2005, switched to targeting only the most at risk — such as babies with infected relatives.
In a third bid to justify their theory, Professor Franklin and Dr Modis and colleagues studied blood samples from coronavirus patients in England.
Using samples from patients at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, they looked for signs of rubella immunity in severely and moderately ill patients.
If their theory was correct, they said, they would expect to see higher levels of immunity among the more badly-affected patients after they had recovered – and they did.
They suggest that the antibodies patients developed during their battle against COVID-19 match up with rubella antibodies, potentially proving their theory in reverse – that coronavirus infection could protect people from rubella and vice versa.
‘Whilst we accept that it is possible that this trend could be representative of pre-infection protection to rubella infection, it is not possible to determine this,’ the team wrote.
In conclusion, Professor Franklin, Dr Modis and colleagues wrote: ‘Taken together, our preliminary data would support the hypothesis that rubella vaccination could provide protection against poor outcome in COVID-19 infection.
‘To determine if there is a potential effect of MMR vaccinations, it would be necessary to know the vaccination status of younger patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 and the severity of the disease.
‘If there is a link, we propose that vaccination of “at risk” age groups with an MMR vaccination should be considered as a time-appropriate and safe intervention.
‘To create a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will be arduous and may require time which we simply cannot afford.
‘Meanwhile, some help could be immediately available to those in the greatest need.’
British parents are among the most vehement anti-vaxxers in Europe — with one in 30 claiming they are ‘opposed to all vaccines’
British parents are among the most vehement anti-vaxxers in Europe — with one in 30 claiming they are ‘opposed to absolutely all vaccines’, a study has found.
A survey of five European countries revealed that parents in Spain have the most positive feelings towards vaccination, while their French counterparts have the least.
However, Germany and the UK and had the greatest proportion of stringent anti-vaxxer parents — with over three times more than found in France, Italy or Spain.
A growing ‘anti-vaxx’ sentiment has led to poor vaccination coverage rate across much of Europe — leading to the resurgence of preventable diseases like measles.
The findings come a week after the WHO warned that measles vaccination rates will plummet as millions of children are kept away from GPs during the COVID-19 crisis.
The survey found that Germany and the UK had significantly high proportions of parents who were opposed to all forms of compulsory vaccines — at 7.8 and 7.4 per cent, respectively. Levels were at only 4 per cent in France, 1 per cent in Italy and 0.8 per cent in Spain
MMR VACCINE IS ‘SAFE AND DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM’, STUDY FINDS
A vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is safe and effective, according to a review looking at dozens of earlier studies involving millions of children.
The review, completed by British policy institute Cochrane, involved examining 138 different studies into the vaccine and its side effects including whether there was any evidence it caused autism.
The review was prompted by a rise in cases of measles and mumps in England and Wales, as the rate of immunisation for the diseases continues to fall.
This has in part been blamed on a discredited study that falsely claimed a link between the MMR and autism – the review says there is no evidence of a link.
They found that the recommended two doses of the MMR jab are 96 per cent effective at stopping infection from mumps, measles and rubella.
It comes after the World Health Organization last week raised concerns that measles vaccination rates will plummet as millions of children are kept away from GPs during the coronavirus crisis.
The authors found very little difference in the rate of autism between those who have and haven’t been vaccinated.
In fact, they found for every 100,000 unvaccinated children 451 had autism compared to 419 vaccinated children with autism.
A Cochrane review is considered a gold-standard in research as it systematically looks at multiple studies on a subject over a long period of time.
The authors said: ‘The risks posed by these diseases far outweigh those of the vaccines administered to prevent them’.
The online survey of European parents’ opinions was conducted by infectious disease specialist Jean Paul Stahl, of the University Hospital Grenoble, France, and his colleagues in 2019.
In total, 750 pairs of parents with children aged between 0–35 months participated in the study — with 150 from each of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.
The team found considerable variation in feeling towards vaccines, with Spanish caregivers the most likely to have favourable opinions (at 94 per cent of parents) and French parents the least likely (at only 73 per cent.)
In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, 86 per cent of parents hold positive opinions of vaccines, compared with 88 per cent in Germany and 87 per cent in Italy.
In all five countries, more than 90 per cent of parents reported as being favourable towards mandatory vaccinations for at least one of a certain set of vaccines.
These included chicken pox, diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumococcal meningitis, meningococcal meningitis B and C, poliomyelitis, rotavirus gastroenteritis, tetanus and whooping cough.
However, Germany and the UK had significantly high proportions of parents who were completely opposed to all forms of compulsory vaccines — at 7.8 and 7.4 per cent, respectively.
In comparison, total anti-vaxxer levels were at only 4 per cent in France, 1 per cent in Italy and 0.8 per cent in Spain.
As with positive opinions towards vaccines, levels of trust in health authorities was found to be the highest in Spain — where 88 per cent of parents rated their level of trust as 7 or above on a ten point scale — and lowest in France at only 68 per cent.
For contrast, the same figure was found to be 79 per cent in both the UK and Germany, while it was 74 per cent among Italian citizens.
The team found considerable variation in feeling towards vaccines, with Spanish caregivers the most likely to have favourable opinions (at 94 per cent of parents) and French parents the least likely (at only 73 per cent.) In the United Kingdom, 86 per cent of parents hold positive opinions of vaccines, compared with 88 per cent in Germany and 87 per cent in Italy
A growing ‘anti-vaxx’ sentiment has led to poor vaccination coverage rate across much of Europe and elsewhere in the world, like in the US, pictured, where anti-vaxxers hold protests. In places, this has lead to the resurgence of preventable diseases like measles
When considering vaccine knowledge, French parents reported feeling significantly less well-informed overall, with only 77 per cent of those surveyed feeling well informed, as compared to the 90–94 per cent values seen in the other countries,
The researchers also found that the primary source of information parents use to decide whether to vaccinate their children was their local health care provider.
However, they also found that that the internet — particularly health authority websites — plays a key role, as do friends and family, who guide between 14–40 and 9–30 per cent, respectively, of parent’s decisions based on their home country.
In fact, 81 per cent of UK parents reported having read up on vaccines online, as compared with 71% for Italy, 70% for Germany and Spain — and just 58 per cent of parents surveyed from France.
As with positive opinions towards vaccines, levels of trust in health authorities was found to be the highest in Spain — where 88 per cent of parents rated their level of trust as 7 or above on a ten point scale — and lowest in France at only 68 per cent
81 per cent of UK parents reported having read up on vaccines online, as compared with 71% for Italy, 70% for Germany and Spain — and just 58 per cent of parents surveyed from France
‘Parents having a favourable opinion on vaccination seemed to be linked with a better perceived vaccination knowledge,’ the researchers added.
‘The health care provider doing the vaccination was the first source of information, while the internet was also a valuable resource while friends and families can also be influential.
‘Local characteristics should be taken into account to increase confidence into vaccination.’
‘Evaluation should be harmonised at a European level, allowing countries to share best practice strategies for public health.’
The full findings of the study will be presented at the 2020 European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, which is being held virtually this year as a result of the present COVID-19 pandemic.
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