CLEVELAND, Ohio — Here’s an unexpected bonus that could come from being up to date with vaccinations. Common vaccines, such as those for shingles and measles, can protect against severe COVID-19, recent studies suggest.
Previous research has suggested that some vaccines – including tuberculosis and flu vaccines – may work not only against the specific diseases for which they were designed, but also against unrelated diseases.
Now more and more scientists are testing the theory regarding COVID-19.
If the results are strong, these findings could be vital in the next pandemic. Existing vaccines may offer protection against new strains of insects while specific vaccines are under development.
The new research includes:
A collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found evidence to suggest that two common immunizations boost the ability of the COVID-19 vaccine to protect against severe COVID-19.
A global study – which aimed to enroll up to 30,000 healthcare workers – was among the first to assess on a large scale whether measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and Tdap vaccines can protect against COVID-19. The researchers expect to release the data soon.
A Kaiser Permanente study pointed to the conclusion that people vaccinated against shingles have a lower risk of being diagnosed or hospitalized with COVID-19.
Kaiser’s study “adds to this growing body of thought about the potential non-specific effects of vaccines in protecting against the many different infections that exist,” said Katia Bruxvoort, associate researcher at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California and disease epidemiologist based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Bruxvoort was the co-first author of the Kaiser Permanente study.
How can a vaccine designed to protect against one disease be effective against another disease?
Researchers believe the vaccine trains the body to respond faster and more effectively to any pathogen it sees, Bruxvoort said.
“It’s like practice – it prepares to prevent the next infection,” Bruxvoort said.
One hypothesis is that different viruses have common characteristics that apply to all, said Dr. Lara Jehi, the clinic’s research information manager and co-author of the Clinic-Brigham and Women study.
“As the body responds, it builds immunity against everything, including common elements that may apply to other viruses as well,” Jehi said. “It allows you to be better prepared for the next infection.”
However, people shouldn’t use these results as an excuse to avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Jehi said.
More research is needed before doctors recommend getting vaccinated to avoid getting sick with COVID-19, Bruxvoort said. Staying up to date with all vaccinations is recommended for a healthier and more responsive immune system, Bruxvoort said.
“Immunology studies will be needed to understand what’s going on at the cellular level,” Bruxvoort said. “I think that will be the direction of the research – to see if there are ways to exploit this system to optimize vaccination strategies so that we get optimal protection in the future.”
Do COVID-19 vaccines protect against other diseases? It is unknown, said Jehi. “That’s an interesting question,” said Jehi. “We are learning so much about COVID-19 and how the body reacts to it, with each passing day.”
Joint Clinic, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Study Investigates Two Childhood Vaccines and COVID-19
A team of researchers from the clinic – including Jehi – and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found evidence to suggest that MMR and Tdap vaccines boost the ability of a COVID-19 vaccine to protect against severe COVID-19.
The MMR vaccine is given during infancy and the Tdap vaccine is given every 10 years.
Vaccines are designed to induce a strong and long-lasting immune response through the creation of specialized cells of the immune system, called memory T cells and B cells.
The idea is that pre-existing memory T cells generated by prior MMR or Tdap vaccination and activated by current COVID-19 infection give the immune system a head start in responding to COVID-19, thereby reducing the risk of serious illness, the researchers said. .
The clinic assisted Brigham and Women’s Hospital by analyzing data from more than 75,000 clinic patients who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 2020 and March 2021, in Ohio or Florida.
The team found that COVID-19 patients who had been previously vaccinated for MMR had a 38% decrease in hospitalizations and a 32% decrease in ICU admissions/deaths. Patients previously vaccinated for Tdap experienced a 23% drop in hospitalization rates and a 20% decrease in ICU admission and death rates.
The results were published a year ago in the journal Med. Michael W. Kattan, a member of the Clinic’s Quantitative Health Sciences Department, also worked on the Clinic-Brigham and Women’s Study.
Kaiser Permanente evaluates shingles vaccine in Southern California-based trial
People vaccinated against shingles had a lower risk of COVID-19 diagnosis or hospitalization, according to a Kaiser Permanente study of people aged 50 and older. The research was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in December.
The recombinant shingles vaccine with adjuvant, better known by the brand name Shingrix, is recommended for people aged 50 and over to protect against shingles.
To investigate the possibility that the shingles vaccine protects against COVID-19, Kaiser Permanente researchers conducted two types of analyses. Both analyzes used data from electronic health records of Kaiser Permanente Southern California members aged 50 and older between March 1 and December 31, 2020. COVID-19 vaccines were not widely available during this time.
“Each (type of) analysis has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages, so we applied both approaches to strengthen our study,” Bruxvoort said.
An analysis compared COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations between 149,244 people who had received at least one dose of the shingles vaccine and 298,488 people who had not.
The other analysis looked at shingles vaccination status among 75,726 people who tested positive for COVID-19 during the study period and 340,898 whose COVID-19 tests were negative.
Analyzes suggested that people who had received at least one dose of the shingles vaccine were 16% less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19. – no matter how long ago they had received the vaccine. Those vaccinated against shingles were 32% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
GSK, the maker of Shingrix, funded this study.