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Can Vaccine Repurposing Help During Covid-19?

With the imminent arrival of fall there are many unanswered questions about how we will be functioning in the world with COVID-19. Will schools be open? Will we have to go on lockdown again? What happens when the cold and flu season hits and we are also dealing with a variety of other common seasonal viruses? 

As I have been advising patients through this entire process, my approach has evolved: information we knew early on has drastically changed; whereas once the use of mask wearing was in question, there is now no doubt that it is essential in significantly decreasing infection from COVID-19. This has led to a lot of confusion as people try to make sense of the latest data and is complicated by some offering up doubts and conspiracy theories. This makes for a good book, but one story I would rather us not be living in.

What is quite clear to me is that we will not have a vaccine in time for the fall flu season. 

So what more can we possibly do?  

I think a reasonable possibility at this time might be the exploration of repurposing existing older vaccines. Last year, my area in Rockland county New York had a major outbreak of measles. A disease that we had not witnessed in many decades began to re-surface. 

Prior to this many susceptible populations, like newborns and infants, were protected by what is known as herd immunity. Herd immunity works only if a significant portion of the population has immunity against the disease. 

As a result, my son’s school was shut down for a period of weeks until the unvaccinated were vaccinated, and the number of cases began to significantly decline; an interesting precursor to times ahead. But now we know on a magnified scale of that event and dealing with a virus we have just started to understand.

The question now becomes: can we support our immune response in an unprecedented time like this?

I recall reading some research as early as May of this year where expert virologists had suggested that giving the Polio vaccine, one that most of us have received, may stimulate the body’s innate immune system in such a way that it could provide protection from a more severe manifestation of COVID-19*.  

Mind you, this is the live oral polio vaccine which is no longer offered in the United States but still available in other countries. We now have an injectable inactivated form of the vaccine. There is a push to do more research in this area and hopefully be able to bring this therapy available to the U.S. again. Dr. Robert Gallo, the director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder of the Global Virus Network, a coalition of virologists from more than 30 countries, is leading the push for this cheap and easily accessible preventative strategy. 

How does that information help Americans since we can’t access that easily?  Recently, another report hypothesized, with supportive rationale, similar effects from the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine –the same one you need to get immunity against measles. The report discussed the potential protection in dampening the severe effects associated with COVID-19 infection. And, many of us have had waning immunity to vaccines we got a lifetime ago.  

Referencing the measles outbreak last year, many people in the New York area began to look at their measles titers to see if they had immunity.  Interestingly, many found that they no longer had adequate protection against measles and sought to revaccinate again. So, a thought occurred to me: maybe this is a great time to do testing for MMR titers. If there is an indication that there is a blunted immune response, then revaccinate. It’s possible that by doing so, you may offer some level of protection against COVID-19. If you are living outside of the U.S. where the oral polio vaccine is offered, that may be yet another option you have.

As a natural “prepper” (I like planning in general and preparedness for unexpected life events like hurricanes and superstorms have led me to think more catastrophic possibilities these days), I urge you to get your MMR titers tested, and consider this possibility of re-vaccination as another layer of protection as we all prep for the coming months.

 

 

Pamela Yee, MD is an Integrative Physician at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY where she creates highly personalized treatment plans for each of her patients. Dr. Yee has a special interest in integrative cancer care, immune disorders, and lyme disease. She lives in Nyack NY where she and her husband manage their own organic micro-farm.

 

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