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Researchers look at benefits MMR booster shot could have on COVID-19

As concerns for coronavirus infections continue, a pair of medical researchers say one way to escape the worst of the virus is already here.

We spoke to researchers, a Lee Health doctor and other medical experts Thursday about the benefits of getting an MMR booster shot in relation to COVID-19.

“Very suddenly, we were seeing nobody, and it came to the point we had to close this office,” said Dr. Thomas Shiller, a pediatrician at Lee Health. “Normally, we’d be giving vaccines during that time, and they weren’t happening.”

Once the pandemic began, Schiller says childhood vaccinations plummeted.

But a new scientific theory says those vaccinations could be the key to helping everyone avoid the worst of the virus. And COVID-19 infection rates in children, or the lack thereof, lead the way.

“The earliest data coming out of China with [COVID-19] nobody under the age of nine died,” said Mairi Noverr, a Tulane professor with a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. “So I wondered whether that was because children get repeated live attenuated vaccines throughout childhood.”

Noverr and Paul Fidel, an adjunct professor at LSU with a Ph.D. in microbiology, immunology & parasitology, said, between their animal trials and anecdotal stories, certain vaccines seem to prime the immune system.

“These live attenuated vaccines in general provide something more than just the immunity to the target pathogens that they are made for,” Fidel said. “They provide this sort of added extra non-specific immunity and non-specific benefits for other types of infections.”

Now, the health experts are recommending adults get an MMR booster shot.

“I called it a no harm no foul type situation because, if we’re wrong, well you got some immunity to measles, mumps and rubella,” Fidel said. “If we’re right, you have that, plus you could be helping yourself if you ever got infected with [COVID-19].”

It’s an idea that local health leaders say needs more evidence.

“Until we get into deep research and doing some studies and really trying it out in the laboratory and on people, we’re not going to be able to determine if this is true or not,” said Rober Hawkes, the director of FGCU’s physician assistant program.

And it’s and idea Noverr and Fidel agree with. They say they’re hoping to get clinical trials underway to test their theory.

“We have to do the science, and it’s really important to do it and to get the data,” Fidel said.

But for Schiller’s patients, it could be just one more reason to come in and get vaccinated.

“I hadn’t seen one of my patients get [COVID-19] up until the past couple of weeks, and now it’s happening left and right, and it’s a little disconcerting,” Schiller said.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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