New research suggests that common childhood vaccines may help prevent severe complications of COVID-19. The paper was published online this week, demonstrating the ability of live attenuated vaccines to activate nonspecific immune cells that can shield the body against unrelated infections.

Published by Dr. Paul Fidel, Jr. of the Center of Excellence in Oral and Craniofacial Biology and Dr. Mairi Noverr of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, the study suggests that childhood vaccines such as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) can help train the white blood cells of the immune system to mount a more effective protection against coronavirus infections.

The researchers have found that vaccination with a live attenuated fungal strain can generate trained innate protection against severe symptoms of COVID-19, such as lung inflammation and lethal sepsis. According to the authors of the study, the defense from an unrelated live attenuated vaccine is produced by long-lived myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), which were previously found to inhibit septic inflammation and mortality in experimental models.

While the researchers suggested that MMR and other childhood vaccines can serve as immune preventive measures against severe COVID-19, they emphasized that these vaccines should not be directed against the disease. “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,” wrote Dr. Fidel.

He explained that bystander cells in the body are long-lived but not life-long, so anyone who had an MMR vaccination as a child may not have the same immune cells directed against sepsis. “So, it could be important to get the MMR vaccination as an adult to protect better against COVID-related sepsis,” he noted.

Dr. Fidel also suggested that adults in high-risk settings get an MMR vaccine or booster if they are not pregnant, immunocompromised, or allergic to vaccinations, saying it’s a “no harm no foul action.” “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,” he added.

Discussion about the Cuba's life-saving lung cancer vaccine called CimaVax-EGF is growing rapidly. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

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