Scientists are speculating that the measles vaccine does more than prevent measles. A new study published in the journal “Science” found that children that were vaccinated did not just avoid the measles, they also eluded infectious illnesses such as pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis.
Historically, each time the measles vaccine was introduced, childhood mortality dramatically went down by 30 to 50 percent in some countries and by 90 percent in severely destitute nations.
Today the vaccine is hailed as one of the most effective operations in public health in recent history.
The World Health Organization has asserted that the vaccine is linked to a hefty decrease in child mortality no matter what the infectious illness is. Following widespread vaccination, childhood deaths due to infectious disease fall by 50 percent.
Michael Mina is a post-doctorate at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University. He and his team performed a recent study using computer models to predict the mortality rate for infectious diseases in the next few years.
The team looked at figures collected from the U.S, Denmark, England and Wales. Numbers dated back to the 1940s.
In every location, the presence of measles was linked by some degree to the rate of mortality. The magnitude of the affect was different for each country because, most likely, health care underwent changes during the 70-year stretch.
From the evidence, Mina and his colleagues concluded that being infected with measles leaves children susceptible to other infectious diseases for an average time span of 28.3 months, or about two or three years.
Measles is a severe immunosuppressor, increases a host’s likelihood of contracting other diseases. Most viruses have this effect, but measles takes it even further. It actually obliterates any immunity the host once had.
After going through a measles infection, “the immune system kind of comes back. The only problem is that it has forgotten what it once knew,” Mina explains.
For example, if a child gets sick with pneumonia, they build up antibodies which prevent the child from contracting the disease again. But if that child then catches the measles, their immune system loses that protection and they could contract pneumonia once more.
Persuasive evidence from the new study contributes to the belief that measles affects a person’s immunity and, therefore, their overall mortality. Thus, the measles vaccine could decrease mortality to a much larger degree than originally thought.
Still, scientists still have not been able to supply enough evidence as to why this phenomenon happens. They have only come up with “immune amnesia” as a theory. There is still more testing to be done.
Even so, no one can ignore the overwhelming evidence that eliminating measles lessens the risk of contracting other infectious diseases. It is just another incentive for people, especially children, to be vaccinated.
Reductions in mortality have been observed in the U.S., England and other parts of Europe and are still seen in developing countries each time the vaccine is instituted.
– Lillian Sickler
Sources: NPR, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Research Gate, Online Post, ARS Technical