Study: Flu Shots, Measles Vaccines Could Help ‘Flatten the Curve’ for COVID-19

The research team hypothesized that younger people having more social contacts across age groups and the timing of vaccinations could have made a difference.

A recent study suggests that the generalized immune-boosting properties of many vaccines can cross-protect patients against multiple pathogens, including COVID-19, according to a Weill Cornell Medicine press release.

"We know that unrelated vaccines have these heterologous effects, and a reasonable person could tell you that if you used them during a pandemic, it would benefit," said lead study author Nathaniel Hupert, MD, associate professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, in the press release.

The objective of the study was to determine which populations would be the best to target and how much of the population would have to get unrelated vaccines to impact their wellbeing.

Hupert and senior author Douglas Nixon, MD, PhD, professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine, used the COVID-19 International Modeling Consortium system, which is a sophisticated computer modeling platform they had built in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If you have a model that can be customized to a particular place and time in the context of an outbreak, you can start to experiment with different conditions of population immunity and see how things might have played out," Hupert said in the press release.

The research team used the winter 2020-21 COVID-19 wave in the United States and studied the likely effects of a non-COVID-19 vaccine intervention at different times and targeting different populations. Although they did not specify which vaccines, the researchers chose values for cross-protection consistent with data from earlier studies on measles, influenza, tuberculosis, and other immunizations. The team found that an unrelated vaccine that provided just 5% protection against serious COVID-19 and that was delivered to only a small portion of the population would have caused a substantial reduction in caseloads and hospital use.

"Surprisingly, we found a couple of really interesting emergent results from what we put in the mix," Hupert said in the press release.

Additionally, although COVID-19 severity correlates closely with age, an experimental scenario that modeled vaccinating everyone over 20 years of age was more effective than strategies targeting only the elderly. The research team hypothesized that younger people having more social contacts across age groups and the timing of vaccinations could have made a difference.

“This modeling study shows the potential power of all vaccines in keeping the immunological system primed and healthy and reinforces the need for everyone to keep their vaccination history up to date, particularly during a pandemic,” Nixon said in the press release.

Hupert said the new findings are a “double win,” suggesting that even nations with difficulty distributing enough COVID-19-specific vaccines can intervene with routine immunizations against other pathogens and, in combination with non-pharmaceutical interventions such as face masks, could potentially stop ongoing COVID-19 waves while preventing other diseases.

“Each and every additional protective measure that we can muster across populations at risk—even small ones like those we modeled—will lead to fewer infections, which means fewer new variants, which may mean a quicker end to the pandemic,” Hupert said in the press release.

REFERENCE

Flu Shots, Measles Vaccines Could Also Help "Flatten the Curve" for COVID-19. Weill Cornell Medicine. January 10, 2022.Accessed January 11, 2022. https://news.weill.cornell.edu/news/2022/01/flu-shots-measles-vaccines-could-also-help-flatten-the-curve-for-covid-19