When we think about vaccinations, most of us are thinking of preventing specific deadly diseases that were prevalent in previous generations. But, one vaccination offers a surprising added benefit.
According to a new study, getting a vaccination against measles doesn’t just protect people from the measles virus — it also prevents other infectious diseases from taking advantage of people’s immune systems after they have been damaged by measles. These findings are important because they serve to explain why the development of measles vaccines prevented so many more deaths than researchers had expected.
The study conducted by Michael Mina and colleagues involved analyzing data from before and after mass measles vaccinations began in England, Wales, the United States, and Denmark. The results suggest that measles damages the memory of the body’s immune system so that it forgets how to fight off a wide range of bacterial invaders.
Previous studies have suggested that measles induces a kind of “immune amnesia” for weeks or months after infection, but this new research reveals that this measles-induced immune damage can last for two to three years. During that time, people who have fought off the measles virus are vulnerable to a multitude of opportunistic pathogens that can cause serious medical problems.This population-level analysis suggests that measles vaccinations played a key role in lowering mortality from other infectious diseases in all of the countries studied.
If you’re on the fence about getting your children vaccinated, keep in mind that these findings imply the measles vaccine keeps immune systems’ memories intact — offering a degree of herd protection against non-measles infections.