The suggestion actually dates back to a study done during the introduction of measles vaccine in Bangladesh, in the mid-1980s. Some regions received the vaccine before others, so epidemiologists could compare what was making children ill in the different regions. As they expected, there was a lot less measles in the vaccinated regions. What they did not expect was that in the three years in which some regions were waiting for the vaccine, more children died of diseases other than measles than in the vaccinated regions.
Because the study looked at information that had already been collected by the local health services, the researchers could not be sure the measles vaccine deserved all the credit. For example, there may have been a localised disease outbreak in the unvaccinated areas, or perhaps the staff tasked with finding out who had died of what did a better job there.
The latest study used data from the health services in the UK, USA and Denmark, where the health services have reliable records of who has been vaccinated, who has had measles and if they died, what they died of. The study showed that children who have survived measles are more likely to die of other infections in the two or three years after they had measles.
The study only looks at deaths and as we’re fortunate enough to live in the era of antibiotics and intensive care units, most children in the countries studied survive infections that would kill a child in rural Bangladesh. The chances are that for every British, American or Danish child that died, many more became seriously ill and several were permanently affected.
The conclusion is the same as it always was: the measles vaccine saves lives. The new study shows that it saves even more lives than we’d originally thought.