Amid concerns over the third wave of COVID-19 potentially affecting children more, a study conducted by researchers in India has found that kids inoculated with the measles vaccine had milder symptoms upon contracting the novel coronavirus than those not vaccinated.
The study, conducted by BJ Medical College in Pune, also showed that the measles vaccine had an effectiveness of 87.5 percent against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, also said that the measles vaccine might offer long-term protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection in children. The researchers behind the study called for more trials to confirm their findings.
"This is the world's first such study. We focused on Measles Mumps and Rubella(MMR) vaccines for the study since the amino acid sequence of SARS-CoV-2 is nearly 30 percent similar to that of the rubella virus. The spike (S) protein of SARS-CoV-2 is also similar to the hemagglutinin protein of the Measles virus. That is why we did the study and the results are promising," pediatrician Dr. Nilesh Gujar, the study's lead investigator, told IndiaToday.
Dr. Nilesh Gujar also said the MMR vaccine may also help prevent cytokine storms in children affected with COVID-19. Cytokine storm is when the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues rather than just fighting off the virus.
" The MMR vaccine will give heterogenous protection to kids till a COVID-19 vaccine is made available. Those who have not been fully vaccinated or received a single dose must get inoculated so that they are protected against measles and also might get some protection against Covid-19," Dr. Nilesh Gujar told IndiaToday.
HOW THE STUDY WAS CONDUCTED
The news bodes well for India since the measles vaccine has been part of the country's routine immunisation programme for the past 35 years. In India, the first dose of the measles vaccine is given at 9-12 months of age and the second dose at 16-24 months of age.
The study was conducted on 548 children between the age of 1 to 17. They were split into two groups -- those who had tested positive for Covid-19 through RT-PCR tests and those who were not.
All participants in the study had received Oral Polio Virus (OPV) and all except one had received Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccines.
"Measles Containing Vaccines (MCVs) reduced incidence of laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in children. The number of symptomatic cases was also lower in the vaccinated group compared to the unvaccinated group," the study found. "Age and sex did not influence the protection provided by MCVs," it further stated.
COVID-19 VACCINES FOR CHILDREN
The study lays credence to the hypothesis by several researchers that children may be protected against SARS-CoV-2 infection by "non-specific immunity" provided by live-attenuated vaccines like measles and BCG.
So far, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been milder in the pediatric population than in adults. However, children can be important carriers for transmission of the virus, the researchers noted.
Till now, only the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer has been approved for use on children. The vaccine is not available in India yet. In India, Zydus Cadila and Bharat Biotech are conducting clinical trials of their vaccines on children.
In March, the journal mBio reported that researchers from Ohio State University had developed a new COVID-19 vaccine candidate, called rMeV-preS, using a measles vaccine. The gene of a key protein is encased in a measles vaccine and delivered into the body.