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Could the MMR Vaccine Help Prevent COVID-19? New Trial May Tell

FRIDAY, Sept. 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A new clinical trial will try to determine whether the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine can protect health care workers from being infected with COVID-19.

Hundreds of millions of people have received the MMR vaccine since it was developed nearly 50 years ago. It's usually given to children before age 6. Growing evidence suggests that the vaccine may also prevent COVID-19.

"We know that the MMR vaccine is safe, and we think there are two main reasons that it could prevent COVID-19," said researcher Dr. Michael Avidan, head of the department of anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"The first is this vaccine includes small amounts of live but very weakened measles, mumps and rubella viruses," Avidan explained in a university news release. "This type of vaccine appears to strengthen the body's immune response to infections in general, not just to the viruses in that particular vaccine."

The MMR vaccine may also work because it protects against viruses that are similar to coronavirus. The researchers think that antibodies made to the MMR vaccine might also fight SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

In addition, the researchers hope that the MMR vaccine might make cases of COVID-19 milder.

The trial is funded by a $9 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Mastercard, and other public and philanthropic donors.

Researchers hope to enroll as many as 30,000 health care workers around the world. Participants will be randomly selected to get the MMR vaccine or a placebo.

Most of those recruited for the trial will receive a booster, as they likely received the vaccine as children. But in some countries where the MMR vaccine isn't widely given, health care workers may be receiving the vaccine for the first time, the researchers noted.

The countries involved in the study include Canada, Ghana, Ireland, South Africa, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Each study participant will be followed for five months, and the entire trial is expected to last about a year, the researchers said. Scientists at University College London (UCL) will compile the data from the trial.

"If we discover that the MMR vaccine can help train the body's immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection, then we will have something to administer very quickly, while waiting for more specific vaccines and preventive therapies to be developed," explained researcher Dr. Laurence Lovat, a professor of gastroenterology and biophotonics at UCL.

"If the trial shows that the MMR vaccine can boost the body's general immune response, we believe it may enhance the effectiveness of vaccines currently in development to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection," he added.

More information

For more on COVID-19, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, news release, Sept. 3, 2020

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