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Early Childhood MMR Vaccines Might Have Protective Value Against COVID-19

A group of scientists hypothesize these shots could protect young children from the novel virus.

Scientists from Lithuania and Kurdistan have come up with a hypothesis that the traditional childhood vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) may be able to protect children from coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Their theory is based on the discovered sequence similarity of the 30 amino acid residues between glycoproteins of SARS-CoV-2, measles, and rubella viruses.

Rimantas Kodzius, professor, Panevezys Faculty of Technology and Business, Kaunas Technology University, is one of the scientists who developed this hypothesis, and he and a small team of scientists wrote a paper on the subject.

"The antibodies produced in children due to the MMR vaccine could recognize some protein parts (epitopes) on the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins,” Kodzius said. “These antibodies, particularly in the epithelial layer of respiratory airways, block binding, and entering the virus into the cells.”

Kodzius and his fellow group of scientists were inspired by the immunological principle based on the antibody cross-reaction recognizing antigens in two different microbes. They wanted to look for homology sequence in SARS-CoV-2 and the viruses that commonly are prevented by vaccination during childhood. It was discovered that 30 amino acid residues share similarities between the Spike (S) glycoprotein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Fusion glycoprotein of Measles virus as well as with the envelope glycoprotein of the Rubella virus.

According to recent studies, the levels of antibodies against MMR vaccination may persist for 15 to 20 years. Theoretically, the same protection against COVID-19 could last that long.

Kodzius and the team of investigators acknowledged much more is needed to support their hypothesis. Research including testing purified spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 against the polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies of measles and rubella viruses in vivo and in vitro is required in order to support their hypothesis.

In terms of medical science’s approach to COVID-19, researchers have been actively looking at existing therapies or medications, so it appears to be par from the course with the MMR vaccine theory. For example, remdesivir, which was developed for Ebola but didn’t prove to be efficacious, is a treatment being studied and used for COVID-19 patients.

While not understood yet, it appears children and adolescents are not affected by COVID-19 in the same way as adults. In data looking at young patients from China and South Korea, the disease is less common and milder in children younger than 10 years of age. In another newly released European study, a similar pattern was found. This same study reported the mortality rate for children with the virus is very low.