Written by Linda Carroll, CNN
While at first glance the latest Omicron virus variant study appears to offer a safe alternative to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, it may in fact be less effective and still pose risks.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Tuesday that the latest analysis showed that over 45% of children in one vaccinated population could contract the virus, even when given the full MMR shot — potentially exposing 1 in every 1,000 people to the dangerous virus.
“Despite this risk and controversy about the safety of the MMR vaccine, the evidence is clear that vaccination offers protection to children and their families against one of the most common and serious childhood infections,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a press release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of contracting the new virus variant is less than the risk of contracting any other virus, either from measles or rubella.
“In 2017, about 3,400 people were hospitalized due to measles, 11 deaths were reported and approximately 600 people were identified with the measles in the United States,” the CDC says.
The risk for children born in 1999 is about 10% — higher than the risk for children born in 1998 or 2016, according to CDC’s current database.
The study is based on an analysis of 80,000 children in a British population with their own immunization rates. The data showed that a single MMR vaccination was significantly more likely to protect these children from Omicron virus than if given in combination with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Children should only be vaccinated against one virus at the same time, scientists say.
In their new report, the scientists warn that this is the highest risk of measles that they have found — also known as oral measles — since the study began. And, they say that risk increases with more than one vaccination given at the same time, increasing to 25% for two vaccines given at the same time, or 35% for a three-vaccine series.
For all three vaccinations being given, the risk of Omicron virus is much lower than the risk for measles from the virus, even when the longer-term risk of measles is taken into account.
When the full series of vaccines, or MMR, is administered, less than 5% of children are affected, the study said.
Vaccines work because they induce antibodies that our bodies produce that seek out and fight measles.
The rubella vaccine was highly effective against measles until the 1980s, when the vaccine became highly variable in many populations, according to Dr. Kathryn Corkill, a professor of virology at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the report.
Despite measles being eliminated from the US from measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) in 2000, Europe and the Middle East have stubbornly high levels of measles.
The US once again experienced an outbreak of measles, with 133 cases so far in the first quarter of 2019, according to the CDC.
CNN’s Allyssa Lee contributed to this report.