A new report discovered pregnant and breastfeeding women enjoy a robust immune response to COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers found the mothers' antibodies were present in their umbilical cord blood and breast milk, suggesting that immunity is passed on from moms to their offspring.
According to NBC News, the study, which was published Thursday in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is of utmost clinical importance since pregnant women were excluded from the trials of vaccines now available and there is little data on their efficacy in this population.
Dr. Andrea Edlow, one of the study authors, and a maternal-fetal specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, says that her study found evidence of maternal antibodies in breast milk and in the umbilical cord.
"So all the information that we have so far suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine, similar to other vaccines, can help protect babies by passing into breast milk and passing into the umbilical cord as well," she said, according to an interview that aired on CBS News.
"This study is one of the pieces of the puzzle that's essential to try and give pregnant and lactating women evidence-based counseling around the vaccine," said Edlow, adding that her research proved that the babies do receive protection from vaccinated moms, although she does not know how long that immunity will last.
Recently, a frontline healthcare worker who received her first dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine 3 weeks before she gave birth delivered a baby that had antibodies against the virus.
According to The Hill, doctors detected the antibodies from the vaccine in the newborn’s cord blood. It is the first known case of its kind and was reported in a preprint publication posted in February by 2 doctors in Boca Raton, Florida.
"A vigorous, healthy, full-term female was born to a COVID-19 naïve mother who had received a single dose of mRNA vaccine three weeks prior to delivery," wrote the pediatricians. "Cord blood antibodies were detected to the S-protein of SARS-CoV-2 at time of delivery."
Dr. Chad Rudnick, one of the doctors involved, said: "This is one small case in what will be thousands and thousands of babies born to mothers who have been vaccinated over the next several months," according to The Hill.
According to NBC News, Dr. Iffath Hoskins, president-elect of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the findings are "very reassuring." The expert noted a woman's immune response is suppressed during pregnancy so that she does not reject her baby; consequently, there has been some debate about what effect a vaccine would have on the neonate.
"What this study shows us is that the mother does mount a robust response," said Hoskins.
Another reason that pregnant women should get the COVID-19 vaccine is that they are at an increased risk of severe disease and complications during pregnancy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an update on the increased risk of pregnant women with symptomatic, confirmed cases of COVID-19. Two studies found that pregnant women with the virus are significantly more likely than non-pregnant women to be admitted into intensive care units and require oxygen. They are also more likely to die from the disease.
According to The National Interest, researchers said that pregnant women were three times more apt to need invasive ventilation to help with breathing. While pregnant women were found to be slightly more at risk of dying than women who are not pregnant, certain ethnic groups such as pregnant Hispanic women had more than twice the odds of dying from the virus.
According to The New York Times, British researchers reported a "high rate of preterm birth and Caesarean delivery in women with SARS-CoV-2 infection." They also found an increase in stillborn and preterm delivery rates during the pandemic, according to JAMA.
Edlow cautioned that her study did not address the safety issues regarding pregnant women and the COVID-19 vaccine. Experts believe, based on animal model research, they are safe, and should be offered to pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Both Edlow and Hoskins recommend any COVID-19 vaccine to pregnant women when they become eligible to receive them and urge them to make their own decisions, according to NBC News.
"We can tell them with complete surety that getting COVID-19 in pregnancy is potentially very dangerous," Edlow said.
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