COVID antibodies detected in newborns, breast milk after moms are vaccinated

SAN FRANCISCO -- There's reassuring news for pregnant women who are unsure if they should get the vaccine. A partially vaccinated mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl with COVID antibodies and, Bay Area doctors are close to publishing new research about COVID vaccines, pregnancy, and nursing.

This week, there was confirmation that a baby born in Florida this year had COVID-19 antibodies in its cord blood. The baby's mother received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine while 36 weeks pregnant.

"We were all not surprised, but really happy," said Dr. Stephanie Gaw, a high risk UCSF OBGYN. She's not surprised because she has three studies under review about the COVID vaccine in pregnant and lactating mothers.

"We're studying the mom's blood, cord blood, placenta, breast milk, and infant blood as well to understand how the immune response in pregnancy is to the vaccine and whether or not the vaccine can also be protective to the baby, both in during pregnancy and with breastfeeding."

Dr. Gaw is working to learn not just if COVID antibodies are passed from mother to baby, but when during pregnancy a person should be vaccinated to optimize antibody production.

"For example, the whooping cough or pertussis vaccine, is recommended to pregnant women around 30 weeks, to give the vaccine time to work generate enough antibodies that the babies have really good levels after delivery. And that's still unknown for the COVID-19 vaccines, when the best time of delivery would be."
She also has great news for nursing moms. "We know that there are antibodies detected in the breast milk after maternal vaccination, and that these types of antibodies, in general are protective to the baby and protect the baby from getting infections as well. We're still doing work on understanding the extent of protection to the babies. It's also possible that, for example, the antibodies can protect the baby, not only against SARS-CoV-2 but other related coronaviruses that cause the common cold."

"We know that maternal antibody usually wanes, after about six months or so," explained Dr. Grace Lee, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stanford.

Regardless of antibodies, Dr. Lee says like the Tdap and flu shot, the COVID vaccine will be important for anyone caring for a newborn. "The best way we can protect infants is to be able to hopefully vaccinate all family members around that infant, and cocoon that infant, so that the risk of transmission to that infant is much lower."

Dr. Gaw hopes to share more of her research soon.
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