The MMR vaccine may not only protect you from measles, mumps, and rubella — it may lower your risk of contracting other serious infections as well, according to a new study from Statens Serum Institute in Denmark.

Dr. Signe Sørup, lead author of the paper, said that the findings underscore the numerous benefits of following the immunization schedule that has been a mainstay of public health since the 1970s. “MMR may have a general immune stimulating effect preventing hospital admissions for unrelated infections,” she wrote in an email to Medical Daily. “It highlights the importance of receiving the MMR vaccine on time.”

The study, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, surveyed nearly half a million Danish children born between 1996 and 2006. Over a period ranging from 11 months to two years, the researchers tracked immunization among these children. Besides an MMR shot at 15 months, the recommended vaccine schedule included shots for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP-IPV-Hib) administered at three, five, and 12 months.

The researchers found that receiving the MMR vaccine on time — that is, after the DTaP-IPV-Hib shot — corresponded to a lower risk of being involved in one of the 56,889 hospital admissions for general infections attributed to the sample. This relationship was particularly clear for lower respiratory tract infections and complications requiring longer hospitalization. But while the results point to new benefits, they also illuminate a waning compliance with public health recommendations.

"The coverage with MMR is suboptimal in many high-income countries; in the present study, about 50 percent of children were not vaccinated on time,” Sørup and colleagues write. “Physicians should encourage parents to have children vaccinated on time with MMR and avoid giving vaccinations out of sequence, because the present study suggests that timely MMR vaccination averted a considerable number of hospital admissions for any infection between ages 16 and 24 months."

MMR Vaccine and Public Responsibility

And so we return, again, to the importance of sticking to scientific evidence and observations rather than rhetoric when it comes to immunization. “Parents fear of MMR has lowered the coverage for MMR and led to new outbreaks of these infections,” said Sørup, who like most experts appears to have limited patience for the vaccine fears that somehow still pervade the developed world. “Our study suggests that parents should be very happy with MMR because it reduces a lot more severe infections than just measles, mumps and rubella.”

Sørup is right: Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 175 cases of measles. That’s 115 more cases than the annual average. And last week, California health officials reported 15 new cases in six counties. "Unfortunately, we're off to a bad year in 2014,” state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez told the Los Angeles Times, adding that nearly half of the patients had parents who opted out of the state’s immunizations schedule.

At last check, the number of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccines was still zero.

Source: Sorup S, Benn CS, Poulsen A, Krause TG, Aaby P, Ravn H. Live Vaccine Against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella and the Risk of Hospital Admissions for Nontargeted Infections. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2014.