THE MMR vaccine used to prevent against measles, mumps and rubella could protect against coronavirus, scientists say.
Experts from the University of Cambridge say the MMR jab, which is typically given to all infants from nine-months-old, could be the reason why children are not as severely affected by Covid-19.
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Scientists say the MMR jab could protect against coronavirusCredit: Getty – Contributor
They have discovered that the key proteins in measles, mumps and rubella viruses have some unexpected similarity with certain proteins in the virus causing Covid-19, known as SARS-CoV-2.
Their revelation comes as trials are beginning to see if the BCG injection, given to many Brits to prevent TB, can also protect against coronavirus.
The Cambridge scientists made their suggestion about the MMR jab after analysing the structure of MMR viruses.
They discovered that the “spike protein” of SARS-CoV-2 is 20 per cent comparable to the measles “fusion protein”.
It isn’t known whether this is close enough to drive a cross-reactive immune response, but this is likely to be the focus of future research.
Writing in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, the researchers said: “We hypothesise that MMR could protect against poor outcome in Covid-19 infection.
“We therefore propose that vaccination of at-risk age groups with an MMR vaccination merits further consideration as a time-appropriate and safe intervention.”
The scientists reiterated that detailed studies in large human populations are needed to determine whether the MMR vaccine can reduce the severity of Covid-19.
The MMR is a safe and effective combined vaccine that is normally used to protect against three separate illnesses – measles, mumps and rubella – in a single injection.
Drop in uptake
The full course of MMR vaccination requires two doses, and is administered at one year of age, and at around three years four months.
Here, 95 per cent of five-year-olds have had the first jab – the World Health Organisation (WHO) target – but only 87.4 per cent have had the second.
Earlier this month, experts revealed that this drop in uptake has put the UK at risk of a measles epidemic during the coronavirus outbreak.
Unicef has estimated that 117 million youngsters in 37 countries may not get immunised as Covid-19 forces social distancing and piles pressure on health services.
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On top of this, many young adults born in the late nineties and early 2000s missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were children.
This is because in 1998 Brit doctor Andrew Wakefield made headlines around the globe by claiming there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
His findings – published in medical journal The Lancet – are believed to have led to widespread concerns among parents giving their children the jab.
The Lancet retracted the story in 2010 after Wakefield’s article was found to have been “dishonest” by the General Medical Council.
He was later struck off before the story was declared fraudulent by the British Medical Journal in 2011.
Could protect millions
An impressive 115 vaccine candidates are currently being investigated to see if they will work as an effective coronavirus vaccine.
One vaccine being trialled is the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) jab, which was developed a century ago to increase immunity to TB — a bacterial lung infection.
Researchers believe the vaccine could protect millions against killer Covid-19 and are set to roll out tests across four countries.
As part of a six month trial, some 4,000 health workers in hospitals across Australia will be given the BCG vaccine, Bloomberg reported.
Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne said: “Although originally developed against tuberculosis, and still given to over 130 million babies annually for that purpose, BCG also boosts humans’ ‘frontline’ immunity, training it to respond to germs with greater intensity.”
The participants will be enrolled in the trial within weeks following fast-track approval from health authorities.
If successful, it could mean the vaccine – which costs as little as £30 a dose – could provide a cheap and readily available method of warding off coronavirus.
Lead researcher, Nigel Curtis, a professor of paediatric infectious diseases at the University of Melbourne and head of the infectious diseases unit at the city’s Royal Children’s Hospital, said: “The clock is definitely ticking.”
Some participating workers will be vaccinated against seasonal influenza and TB, while others receive the flu shot alone in order to set a baseline for comparison.
Researchers will take blood samples at the start and end of the trial to determine who contracted coronavirus, and participants will log any symptoms.
Midway through the trial, analysts will review the results for any indication that the TB vaccine is effective.
In Africa, studies on infants revealed that the BCG vaccine protects against TB and other paediatric infections — enhancing the body’s innate immune system and specifically the response of white blood cells.
Prof Curtis said: “It can boost the immune system so that it defends better against a whole range of different infections, a whole range of different viruses and bacteria in a lot more generalised way.”
It’s also reported that a British trial is planned at Exeter University in Devon.
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He added: “We need to think of every possible way that we can protect health care workers.
“And there’s going to be a particular need to reduce the amount of time that our health care workers are absent.”
It’s hoped that if the trials show a strong enough effect, the jab could be available to the public within months.
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