New research has found that pregnant people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are sharing those antibodies with their unborn child, potentially protecting the baby from contracting the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved for children under the age of 5, the study suggests that receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine while pregnant may be the only currently available way to protect young children against the virus.
The Johnson&Johnson vaccine was not included in the study, nor were booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.
People who are pregnant or recently pregnant are also more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine or any other vaccine hinders fertility.
A previous study concluded that, for babies born from a vaccinated parent, 57% of those infants retained detectable antibody levels six months after birth.
The new CDC study now shows that those antibodies can actively fight against the virus.
“MDHHS [Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] urges all Michiganders ages 5 and older to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and to be boosted if they are eligible, including pregnant women. The vaccine is our best defense against the virus,” MDHHS Lynn Sutfin said in an email Tuesday.
[Editor’s note: North Carolina health officials have repeatedly issued similar statements. The department’s COVID-19 website also includes the following statement:
If you’re pregnant, you should get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccination (including boosters) is strongly recommended for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. People who are pregnant or recently pregnant are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared to people who are not pregnant. Additionally, people who have COVID-19 during pregnancy are at increased risk of preterm birth and stillbirth and might be at increased risk of other pregnancy complications.
Growing evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is safe and effective, and the benefits of getting a vaccine far outweigh the risks. For instance, a recent study of 40,000 pregnant people showed that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy did not increase risk of preterm birth or low birth weight.]
Receiving a vaccine after 21 weeks of pregnancy translated to the strongest level of protection for a baby, the study found, meaning that the transfer of antibodies from pregnant parent to child peaks during the second and third trimesters.
The antibodies are thought to be transferred from the placenta to the baby.
“Dating back to when the COVID-19 vaccines were first released, physicians like me have been encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated as a means to protect themselves and their babies,” said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and the Michigan lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care.
“This new data confirms what we’ve been saying all along and is exceptionally good news for pregnant women who want to protect themselves and their babies from COVID-19. This is particularly important as we continue to wait for vaccines for kids under the age of 5 to be approved,” Bhatti continued.
Bhatti noted that “contrary to some narratives, children and babies can get seriously ill from COVID-19.
“I personally have taken care of children in the hospital who were sick due to COVID-19, including newborns whose moms were sick with COVID-19 at the time of delivery,” he said. “As a physician and a soon-to-be father myself, I wholeheartedly encourage pregnant women to take the safe, effective vaccine to protect themselves and their babies alike.”
Laina Tebbins is a reporter for the Michigan Advance, which first published this report.