A husband-and-wife team of scientific researchers from New Orleans is testing a promising idea that a common vaccine could help against the severe lung infection that often makes COVID-19 lethal.
The theory is getting the shot for measles, mumps and rubella will also induce other immune cells that will help defeat later infections.
Dr. Paul Fidel Jr., a professor at the LSU dental school, and Dr. Mairi Noverr, a microbiology and immunology professor at the Tulane medical school, published their hypothesis in June in the scientific journal mBio.
They were able to show in a lab that vaccination could train cells to fight against lethal sepsis. The cells that provided the protection, called MDSCs, have been shown in other studies to prevent inflammation from infections, and one of the main reasons people die from COVID-19 is lung inflammation that leads to sepsis.
Noverr has received funding to test further in primates, but in the meantime the scientists say there is little risk compared with some potential gain from getting the MMR vaccine. They say it could be particularly helpful for health care workers who are frequently exposed to the coronavirus that has killed more than 130,000 Americans.
“A clinical trial with MMR in high-risk populations may provide a low-risk-high-reward preventive measure in saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fidel said in a statement. “While we are conducting the clinical trials, I don’t think it’s going to hurt anybody to have an MMR vaccine that would protect against the measles, mumps and rubella with this potential added benefit of helping against COVID-19.”
The researchers point out that the 955 sailors on the U.S.S. Roosevelt who tested positive for the virus required only one hospitalization, saying that low rate of serious sickness is possibly connected to the fact that all Navy recruits receive MMR vaccinations.
They also theorize that one reason children haven’t been as affected by the pandemic is that youth have been exposed recently to the MMR vaccine and other live-attenuated vaccines, which use a weakened version of a real virus to build up the body’s natural defenses.
Of course, this research is in the very early stages, and it could prove not to help at all, as other once-promising COVID-19 treatments like the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine have done. Still, there’s little to lose in trying it.
The heartening part is that there are hundreds more experts like the New Orleans duo who are doing their part to try and find a breakthrough against this terrible disease. Although the health and economic costs of the pandemic have been astronomical, they have at least united this nation’s full research capabilities toward finding effective treatments and ultimately a vaccine. The results, although slow, are promising.
That’s at least something to hold onto during this crisis.