Several live vaccines may have beneficial non-specific effects (NSEs) reducing mortality more than can be explained by the prevention of the target infection, a phenomenon which has been linked to innate immune training. Most randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of oral polio vaccine (OPV) and measles vaccine (MV) have shown a large reduction in mortality that must have been at least partly nonspecific because it was much larger than the reduction explained by prevention of the target disease. Hence, stopping a live vaccine after disease-eradication could have negative health effects if the potential beneficial NSEs are not considered. We reviewed one eradicated disease, smallpox, and two infections likely to be eradicated in coming decades, polio and measles. No study was made of unintended effects of stopping smallpox vaccination when it happened in 1980. We have subsequently documented in both Guinea-Bissau and Denmark that smallpox-vaccinated individuals continued to have a survival advantage long after smallpox had been eradicated. The few studies which have examined the effect of OPV on survival all suggest strong beneficial NSEs; in RCTs, OPV compared with inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) has been associated with non-specific reductions in morbidity. RCTs, natural experiments and observational studies have found strong beneficial NSEs for MV. Hence, the imminent eradication of polio and the planned stop of OPV in 2024 and the subsequent eradication of measles infection and the possible stop to live MV could have negative effects for child survival. Before live vaccines are phased out, potential unintended effects of stopping these vaccines should be thoroughly studied.
- Measles vaccine
- Non-specific effects of vaccines
- Oral polio vaccine
- Smallpox vaccine