We reported last May in these pages (NSS May 21) that each of us obtained both courses of the off-the-shelf, easily available MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) Vaccination to guard against the worst aspects of Covid-19 should either of us get the virus.
We acted even in the absence then of an immunological study proving the effectiveness of the MMR against the virus, betting on two factors: first, a Cambridge University finding that the Rubella component of the MMR bears a 29% similarity to the spike protein structure of Covid-19, making cross reactivity between the MMR and Covid possible, providing at least some protection against at least the worst outcomes for Covid (hospitalization or death); and second, the observation by researcher Jeff Gold of the 501c3 charity World Organization in Watkinsville, Georgia, that countries with the least COVID-19 deaths had recent, large scale MMR vaccination campaigns.
Intrigued by Jeff Gold’s research, we had several Zoom calls with Jeff to find out more. Jeff found better outcomes for younger people below the age of 50 who would have received the MMR II Vaccination as infants (the vaccine first became available in 1971), and/or after applying for military service. Our concern for ourselves was that as older Americans in our sixties, we were unlikely to have received MMR vaccinations, so after talking with Jeff and reviewing his research, we each anxiously sought it out from our local clinics just as pandemic levels were really taking off.
Now Jeff and his colleagues (including the wife-husband team in New Orleans of Mairi Noverr of the Tulane Medical School, and Paul Fidel of the LSU Health Sciences Center), have published a new, peer-review study in the open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology (mBio), backing up the claim that getting a course of two MMR vaccinations results in better health outcomes for persons who become infected with Covid-19, or may prevent infection altogether. Click here for the study: https://mbio.asm.org/content/11/6/e02628-20
The study finds that there is “a significant inverse correlation with the group who had received the MMR II vaccination between the severity of COVID-19 and the levels of mumps titers [antibodies associated with the MMR vaccine]. Subjects with the highest levels of mump titers (134 to 300 AU/ml) were all asymptomatic or functionally immune, while only subjects with the lowest titer levels (below 75 AU/ml) had the most severe cases of COVID-19.”
According to Jeff, in his group’s recent study: “We found a statistically significant inverse correlation between mumps titer levels and COVID-19 severity in people under age 42 who have had MMR II vaccinations. This adds to other associations demonstrating that the MMR vaccine may be protective against COVID-19. It also may explain why children have a much lower COVID-19 case rate than adults, as well as a much lower death rate.”
Jeff described further the paper’s findings: “In the new study, the researchers divided 80 subjects into 2 groups. The MMR II group consisted of 50 U.S. born subjects who would primarily have MMR antibodies from the MMR II vaccine. A comparison group of 30 subjects had no record of MMR II vaccinations, and would primarily have MMR antibodies from other sources, including prior measles, mumps, and/or rubella illnesses. The researchers found a significant inverse correlation (rs = -0.71, P < 0.001) between mumps titers and COVID-19 severity within the MMR II group. There were no significant correlations between mumps titers and disease severity in the comparison group.”
According to one of the paper’s coauthors, David J. Hurley, PhD: "This is the first immunological study to evaluate the relationship between the MMR II vaccine and COVID-19.”
The MMR II vaccination has been around for over forty years now. As noted by the paper’s coauthors, the MMR II vaccine “is considered to be very safe and has been found to have very few side effects.” The paper’s coauthors further state: “This study demonstrates that the vaccine could potentially play a key role in combating COVID-19 through long-term, cross-protective immunity.”
Jeff Gold emphasized to us: “It’s important to note that another important finding in the paper is that while mumps titers in those under age 42 and born in the U.S. were associated with severity levels, the same was not true of mumps titer levels in older adults. This means that one should not decide whether or not to get MMR vaccinations as an adult based upon existing titer levels. Instead, if someone wants to get a series of MMR vaccinations, doctors and pharmacists should consider giving the vaccinations even if someone already has high titer levels, as long as a person does not have any health conditions that may interfere with the safety of the vaccine.”
We are gratified now to have solid, peer-reviewed research behind the understanding we initially received from Jeff Gold that the MMR Vaccine may be our best bet to avoid the worst effects of Covid should either of us become infected. Knock on wood, so far neither of us has. However, since we are not healthcare workers, there are likely at least another six months ahead (May at the earliest) before we would be in line to receive a vaccine.
With plenty of pandemic months ahead of us, we are glad now for this study confirming that the MMR II was indeed a good, low risk, high reward bet to avoid the worst effects of this terrible virus. Again, though, as we have indicated before, the watchwords remain for the months ahead of this pandemic: respect nature, respect science, and respect each other by always, but always, wearing a mask.
David Dzielak is the former Executive Director of the Mississippi Division of Medicaid. Robert P. Wise is a Jackson attorney.