Giving the measles vaccine earlier may offer better chances of survival

measles vaccine

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Researchers determine whether administering the measles vaccine earlier in children is associated with better rates of survival in Guinea-Bissau, Africa.

New research has shown that vaccines may affect the overall disease rate and death rate by training the immune system in the body. It has also been shown that vaccines may have some non-specific effects that can change an individual’s susceptibility to a non-targeted disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study for the evidence of non-specific effects of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, and measles vaccine. The measles vaccine review showed non-specific effects of the measles vaccine.

The current vaccination programs and policies do not consider the non-specific effects of a vaccine. WHO has recommended administering the measles vaccine at nine months of age in countries with a high prevalence of measles, and administering it at 12 months of age where the measles infection is under control.

A team of researchers from Guinea-Bissau, Africa conducted a study to find out whether early measles vaccination and vaccination can alter the immune system in a better way and improve the chances of survival. The results of this study were published in BMC Public Health.

During this research, researchers compared an early dose of measles vaccine at 4.5 months in addition to the routine measles vaccine at 9 months of age with the standard dose of measles vaccine at 9 months of age. The study followed-up with children under five years of age through a Health and Demographic SurveillanceSystem in Guinea-Bissau. Children aged between 6 and 36 months with a vaccination card inspected were followed to the next visit or for a maximum of 6 months.

The results of the study showed that early measles vaccine lowers the death rate. However, giving early measles vaccine is only recommended under special circumstances in order to prevent interference from maternal measles antibodies (MatAb) on natural antibody response to measles vaccine. Though the natural antibody response to measles vaccine gets reduced, measles vaccine still given in the presence of MatAb prevents severe measles and death from measles.

The study concluded that measles vaccinated children had a better rate of survival as compared to measles unvaccinated children. The most beneficial effects are for early-vaccinated children. As assumed from the beneficial effects of the measles vaccine, the current vaccination policy of increasing the age of vaccination when measles control improves may not actually help the measles vaccine to reduce death rates due to measles. The beneficial effects of measles vaccine and the distinctive effects by age should be considered while planning vaccination programs in low-income countries.

Written by Pratibha Duggal

Reference: Hansen JS, Thysen SM, Rodrigues A, Martins C, Fisker AB. Is early measles vaccination associated with stronger survival benefits than later measles vaccination? BMC Public Health. 2018 Aug 7;18(1):984.

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