Mothers typically pass antibodies to their newborns through the placenta during the last three months of pregnancy, which provides the baby with passive immunity

By Maria Pasquini
March 22, 2021 01:10 PM
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newborn baby
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Early studies indicate that pregnant women who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 may be able to pass on antibodies to their babies. 

One preliminary study published earlier this month, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, involved 131 women who had been vaccinated, 84 of whom were pregnant and 31 of whom were nursing.

The study found that women who were pregnant and lactating were found to have "equivalent" immune responses to the non-pregnant women who were involved in the study. Additionally, antibodies generated from the vaccines were found to be "present in all umbilical cord blood and breastmilk samples."

The women involved in the study had all received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, co-author Andrea Edlow, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School, told the Washington Post.  Researchers found that women who had gotten the Moderna vaccine had higher levels of the IgA antibody, which is typically found in breastmilk and can help protect babies against respiratory tract diseases, like COVID-19. 

Edlow said that more research is needed to determine if "getting a better IgA boost from the Moderna vaccine" could "somehow translate into improved protection of their baby through breastmilk." 

Additionally, Edlow said that they plan to start studying the effects of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on pregnant women soon.  

Mothers typically pass antibodies to their newborns through the placenta during the last three months of pregnancy, which provides the baby with passive immunity. The protection is only temporary, and the immunity decreases after the first few weeks or months, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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Another early study from Israel observed similar findings.

In that study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, 20 women who received COVID-19 vaccines while pregnant were all found to have antibodies in their umbilical cord blood. All of their babies also had the antibodies. 

Additionally, last month, doctors in Florida published a case study about a baby born to a partially vaccinated mother who was found to have COVID-19 antibodies.

Dr. Paul Giblert and Dr. Chad Rudnick of Boca Raton said the mother received one dose of the Moderna vaccine three weeks before giving birth at the end of January.  A blood sample taken after the baby was born showed that the child had COVID-19 antibodies.

Gilbert told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the mother never contracted COVID-19, meaning the antibodies could only have come from the vaccine.

Although additional research is still needed, health experts are hopeful about the results from these early studies. 

"[They] show what we had hoped would be true, which is that these vaccines could be potentially protective through antibodies passed on to the fetus." Breanna Hughes, co-chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' COVID-19 task force, told the Washington Post.

Hughes, who is not involved with any of the studies, went to to add that despite early concerns about pregnant women receiving the vaccine, "it might be proven that the vaccines actually provide protection to the developing fetus." 

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Despite initial concerns, more and more pregnant women getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as experts affirm that it is safe.

Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. A recent study of more than 400,000 women with COVID-19 found that those who were pregnant were at a 70 percent higher chance of death than non-pregnant women, nearly three times more likely to require intensive care and more than three times more likely to need a ventilator. Still, the overall risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19 is low.

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