Last updated February 22, 2018 at 9:57 am
Researchers find that timely administration of the measles vaccine after DTP3 vaccination can decrease mortality by up to 28 per cent, showing that the vaccine has profound effects beyond preventing measles.
This is the largest study to date into a low or middle-income country. The researchers were particularly interested in the order in which childhood vaccines are given, and that the vaccination courses are fully completed.
It was already known that child mortality is lower when the measles vaccine is administered after the third diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) vaccination, rather than when it’s given before or in conjunction.
This study cast a wider net, looking to show that mortality of all causes is lower when the child’s most recent vaccine is measles. The researchers looked at vaccination and survival data over a 17-year period from more than 38,000 children, comparing mortality difference between children who had completed their full vaccination course (DTP3 followed by measles) and those who had not. They looked at survival after 12 months, where survival rates for measles-vaccinated children rose by 28 per cent, and up to five years when survival rates increased by 18 per cent. They found the same results even when they excluded data from children who had died from measles, showing the vaccine causes benefits outside of preventing measles.
Vaccines protect against more than specific diseases
According to lead author Dr Paul Welaga, “Evaluations of immunisation programs are usually based on the assumption that vaccines only protect against specific diseases. Our new study adds to growing evidence that, when administered in the recommended sequence, measles vaccination helps to reduce child mortality through non-specific effects as well.
“When children in Ghana are not fully vaccinated, it is usually the measles vaccination which is missing. Policy makers should ensure that children get vaccinated for measles after DTP3 because of the potential survival benefits.”
He goes on, “It may be that measles infection is eliminated in the near future and thus measles vaccination is de-emphasised — but if the non-specific beneficial effects of measles vaccination are indeed positive then we should consider continued vaccination even if measles is eradicated.”
The authors aren’t sure why, and call for further study, but they also found that boys benefit more from measles vaccination than girls. Happily though, between 1996 and 2012 correct administration of the measles vaccine increased from 45 per cent to 95 per cent.
This research was published in Frontiers in Public Health.