Vetting a possible answer to COVID-19 - Albuquerque Journal

Vetting a possible answer to COVID-19

Larry Tilley, a Santa Fe veterinarian, thinks the MMR vaccine developed more than 40 years ago could be effective against COVID-19. (Courtesy of Larry P. Tilley)







Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Editor’s Note: This article has been modified to clarify and correct some information that appeared in the original version.

As a veterinarian, much of Larry Tilley’s work has centered around treating dogs and cats, but a pet project of his is medical research on humans, including what he believes is a breakthrough in addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

“I know this is not a small statement. But we have discovered the answer to COVID-19,” said Tilley, who acknowledge that the  work is still in the research stage and revolves around a theory that has not been proven.

And the answer has been right under our nose all along, and is widely available right now.

Tilley says epidemiological data suggests a link between COVID-19 and the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccines developed decades ago. That’s backed up by research on immunization histories around the world showing that those who have received the MMR vaccine are less susceptible to COVID-19. It also provides answers as to why young people are less vulnerable, and why some people never test positive and others are asymptomatic.

“This is huge, and it’s so simple,” said Tilley, a Santa Fe resident for nearly 25 years. “It’s almost too simple – a shot that you get when you’re a year old and everyone knows about.”

Tilley is working with other researchers who hope to get their findings peer-reviewed and published, which he said would go a long way in giving their research credence.

Larry P. Tilley

Tilley says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is aware of their work, but basically can’t say anything about it one way or another until it has been more thoroughly vetted.

He’s also been in contact with U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Florida), a fellow veterinarian, who wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based news organization, titled “Potential cross-reactivity between MMR vaccinations and COVID-19.” In it, he mentions Tilley and others who have studied the issue by name, and calls for health officials to take a close look at their research.

“As countries and people around the world await a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, I believe the scientific community and government experts directing the response to COVID-19 need to analyze these findings,” Yoho wrote in May. “If this research can be verified, it may be possible to initiate a rapid MMR vaccination program for the most vulnerable populations, and follow that with an effective and safe coronavirus vaccine once it is available.”

Taking it to the next level

Tilley said that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he observed that the outbreak was much worse in some countries than in others. He noticed that COVID-19 seemed to have less of an impact in countries that had mass vaccination programs at one time or another and the outbreak was more severe in countries that lacked such programs.

“Anybody could have figured it out. What I did was take it to the next level and pursued it,” Tilley said.

He and a Georgia man, Jeffrey Gold, who he has known for decades, compared notes. In May, a paper they wrote detailing their observations got the attention of researchers around the world.

“Based on our previous publications, there are now a number of papers exploring the concept of using MMR to counter COVID-19,” Tilley says. “All of them are exploring the concept based on our initial paper in May … Clinical trials are being done to further confirm that MMR will be the answer for countering COVID-19.”

The concept has caught the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, along with Wellcome Trust, Mastercard and others, recently announced a $9 million grant to fund clinical trials involving health care workers.

Gold and Tilley indicated that rubella and COVID-19 have a similar viral structure, and sequencing of protein spikes and amino acids. They also got into some of the differences in COVID-19 cases in other countries.

For example, Madagascar, a country of more than 26 million people, last year vaccinated more than 7 million people with a Measles-Rubella Containing Vaccine, or MRCV. As of last week, there were only 224 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in that country.

Similar results were found in Hong Kong, where, in 1997, a mass immunization campaign targeted infants through 19-year-olds. And, last year, Hong Kong also made the MMR vaccine available to anyone who wanted it. Despite its close proximity to the origin of the virus in China, there have been a few more than 100 deaths there associated with the disease.

Conversely, Belgium, which has long lagged behind most countries when it comes to offering MMR vaccinations, has had more than 11,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19.

Though not peer-reviewed, the findings of that study were corroborated by the University of Cambridge.

Getting the word out

Tilley expressed some frustration that their findings haven’t yet gained more traction. He acknowledged that part of the problem is that he’s a veterinarian and Gold is a computer scientist, data analyst and inventor. They don’t have the initials behind their names that medical doctors do, though Tilley is a board-certified internist and expert in the field of electrocardiography.

A native of Iowa and Iowa State graduate, Tilley says he was lucky enough to score an internship with the Animal Medical Clinic in New York City, which he described as almost like the Mayo Clinic of the animal world, and ended up staying 20 years.

“On weekends, I would spend time with medical doctors, and formed relationships with them and got to do research in the human field,” he said, adding that he’s published numerous papers on matters relating to human health.

Now, much of Tilley’s work is through VetMed Consultants, a company he founded with a partner. They consult with roughly two dozen pharmaceutical companies that develop new medications and protocols.

In the meantime, Tilley became a nationally renowned expert in veterinary medicine. His articles and research have been published in hundreds of scholarly articles and 30 veterinary books.

“There are few veterinarians worldwide who wouldn’t know his name or have at least one, if not several, of Tilley’s standard-of-care books on their shelves,” says the bio on Tilley for the article he and Gold published in March.

Tilley says he isn’t looking to make a name for himself through his research on the potential for the MMR vaccine to be used against COVID-19.

“I don’t care how it gets out,” he said, adding that he’s apolitical. “I’m not trying to make any money. I’m just a person like you. But it’s scary what’s happening in the world and I think MMR may be the total answer for what we’ve seen.”

Tilley said what first needs to happen is for the study he, Gold and other researchers wrote to be published by a major medical journal. That will give their findings credibility.

It would also then surely get the attention of the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We need the NIH, CDC, or someone with the administration to step up,” he said.

Tilley says the MMR vaccines should be made available to health care workers, first responders and elderly people first. He said that people over the age of 49 are most susceptible to COVID-19 because the MMR vaccine wasn’t put into widespread use until 1971.

Tilley is hopeful the vaccine would work to protect people against the virus, reducing the number of deaths and the most severe effects from COVID-19.

“It gives me chills to talk about it, because it’s very real,” he said. “This is going to save not thousands, but millions, of lives.”

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