Childhood vaccines are meant to protect individuals against diseases like measles and mumps starting from an early age. Vaccines can’t work, however, if a body is not able to produce the proper immune response. A new study reveals that thousands of children who were born HIV-positive in the mid-1990s, before modern antiretroviral treatments were available, may not be protected from some major diseases even though they were vaccinated.
George Siberry, a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development medical officer and the lead author of the study, looked at the rates of vaccine protection in 428 individuals born between 1992 and 2000. Only 57 percent of HIV-infected teens and young adults who had gotten the popular MMR vaccine—targeting mumps, measles, and rubella—were successfully immunized, compared with 95 percent of healthy teens and young adults who received the same shots. Vaccines were only likely to take effect in HIV-infected individuals if they had begun antiretroviral treatment beforehand. If kids were vaccinated while the HIV virus was still strong in their bodies, the shots may not have worked.
Siberry told BuzzFeed News that the number of vaccinated, HIV-positive teens and young adults who are not properly immunized has “been very hard to pin down.” But it is likely that this number climbs into the thousands in the United States alone. Because diseases like measles can be highly contagious and life-threatening, it’s critical for these individuals to know that they are at risk. This issue is also much more serious in Africa, BuzzFeed News reports, since the continent is home to 90 percent of the estimated 3.2 million HIV-positive children around the world—and less than one-quarter of HIV-affected African children are on antiretroviral treatments. Siberry noted that the findings of his study on mumps, measles, and rubella probably affect “many other vaccines” as well.