Measles, immune suppression and vaccination: direct and indirect nonspecific vaccine benefits.


The measles virus is among the most transmissible viruses known to infect humans. Prior to measles vaccination programs, measles infected over 95% of all children and was responsible for over 4 million deaths each year. Measles vaccination programs have been among the greatest public health achievements reducing, eliminating endemic measles in the whole of the Americas and across much of the globe. Where measles vaccines are introduced, unexpectedly large reductions in all-cause childhood mortality have been observed. These gains appear to derive in part from direct heterologous benefits of measles vaccines that enhance innate and adaptive immune responses. Additionally, by preventing measles infections, vaccination prevents measles-associated short- and long-term immunomodulating effects. Before vaccination, these invisible hallmarks of measles infections increased vulnerability to non-measles infections in nearly all children for weeks, months, or years following acute infections. By depleting measles incidence, vaccination has had important indirect benefits to reduce non-measles mortality. Delineating the relative importance of these two modes of survival benefits following measles vaccine introduction is of critical public health importance. While both support continued unwavering global commitments to measles vaccination programs until measles eradication is complete, direct heterologous benefits of measles vaccination further support continued commitment to measles vaccination programs indefinitely. We discuss what is known about direct and indirect nonspecific measles vaccine benefits, and their implications for continued measles vaccination programs.

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