Objectives To investigate whether measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has positive non-specific effects in a high income setting and to compare rates of hospital admissions for infections between children aged ≤2 years who received live MMR vaccine and those who received an inactivated vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP-IPV-Hib) as their most recent vaccination.
Design Nationwide population based cohort study.
Setting In the Netherlands, DTaP-IPV-Hib+pneumococcal vaccination (PCV) is recommended at ages 2, 3, 4, and 11 months and MMR + meningococcal C (MenC) vaccination at age 14 months. Data from the national vaccine register were linked to hospital admission data.
Participants 1 096 594 children born in 2005-11 who received the first four DTaP-IPV-Hib+PCV vaccines.
Main outcome measures Hazard ratio for admission to hospital for infection in children with MMR+MenC compared with the fourth DTaP-IPV-Hib+PCV as their most recent vaccination. Cox regression was performed with most recent vaccination as time dependent variable, adjusted for potential confounders. Analyses were repeated with admission for injuries or poisoning as a negative control outcome. In addition, rate of admission for infection was compared between the fourth and third DTaP-IPV-Hib+PCV as most recent vaccination.
Results Having had MMR+MenC as the most recent vaccination was associated with a hazard ratio of 0.62 (95% confidence interval 0.57 to 0.67) for admission to hospital for infection and 0.84 (0.73 to 0.96) for injuries or poisoning, compared with the fourth DTaP-IPV-Hib+PCV as most recent vaccination. The fourth DTaP-IPV-Hib+PCV as most recent vaccination was associated with a hazard ratio of 0.69 (0.63 to 0.76) for admission to hospital for infection, compared with the third DTaP-IPV-Hib+PCV as most recent vaccination.
Conclusions Healthy vaccinee bias could at least partly explain the observed lower rate of admission to hospital with infection after MMR vaccination. The lower rate is associated with receipt of any additional vaccine, not specifically MMR vaccine. This emphasises the caution required in the interpretation of findings from observational studies on non-specific effects of vaccination.