Babies can get COVID-19 antibodies from mothers while in the womb, study finds

A new study shows that COVID-19 antibodies — a key element to immunity and protection from the coronavirus — can be transferred from a pregnant women to the infant during pregnancy, supporting the prospect that a mother’s antibodies could be protecting their infant and baby still in the womb from COVID-19.

The cohort study, published on Jan. 29 in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), studied more than 1,400 women and their newborns in Philadelphia between April and August of 2020.

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Researchers found that antibodies were transferred across the placenta in 72 of 83 pregnant women who were infected or previously infected with COVID-19.

According to the study, the efficient transfer of COVID-19 antibodies supports the potential for antibodies to provide protection from the infection in infants.

"Our findings demonstrate the potential for maternally derived antibodies to provide neonatal protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection and will help inform both neonatal management guidance and design of vaccine trials during pregnancy," the study authors wrote.

While the study found antibodies in the newborn babies, the authors said further studies will be needed to determine if the COVID-19 antibodies will be protective against newborn infection, and if so, at what concentration.

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Researchers found that 60% of the women who had antibodies to the coronavirus were asymptomatic — or showed no symptoms. Among the newborns (24%) who had an infected mother who was contagious at the time of delivery, none of the babies tested developed COVID-19.

This study comes on the heels of another study which suggested that pregnant women who contract severe COVID-19 disease face a heightened risk of death and preterm delivery compared to those with asymptomatic cases of the illness.

"Our research shows that serious pregnancy complications appear to occur in women who have severe or critical cases of COVID and not those who have mild or moderate cases," Dr. Torri D. Metz, a maternal-fetal medicine subspecialist and associate professor at the University of Utah Health, said in a news release."This information helps us to counsel our patients more effectively. For pregnant women who have contracted a mild or moderate case of COVID-19, these findings can help to alleviate their fears that they are at an increased risk of having serious pregnancy complications due to the disease."

Another study, which researched thousands of U.S. women between January and June, found that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and are at increased risk for ICU admission requiring mechanical ventilation. It found that pregnant women were 5.4 times more likely to be hospitalized than non-pregnant women, 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and 1.7 times more likely to receive mechanical ventilation, after adjusting for age, the presence of underlying conditions and race or ethnicity.

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These studies back up previous findings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggested that pregnant women who contract the coronavirus are more at risk for severe illness and death than non-pregnant women.

According to FOX News, the CDC said pregnant women should be counseled about the importance of seeking prompt medical care if they develop symptoms of coronavirus.

Last week, the World Health Organization changed its guidance on whether pregnant women can safely take a COVID-19 vaccine.

The organization previously warned pregnant women against receiving the Moderna vaccine, originally saying the vaccine was "currently not recommended" for pregnant women unless they are at high risk of exposure.

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Now, the agency says, "Based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women."

The WHO added that there is very little data available to them to assess safety for pregnant women surrounding the COVID-19 immunization.

"Those pregnant women at high risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (e.g. health workers) or who have comorbidities which add to their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated in consultation with their health care provider," the WHO said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, said last week that he hopes children will begin to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by late spring or early summer.

"Over the next couple of months, we will be doing trials in an age de-escalation manner, so that hopefully by the time we get to the late spring, early summer we will have children being able to be vaccinated, according to the FDA’s guidance," Fauci said during a White House coronavirus briefing discussing the latest information on vaccinations.

Fauci said that scientists have already started age de-escalation testing, which involves vaccine manufacturers receiving emergency approval for the vaccine in people 16 and older, followed by children down to 12 years, and if that is successful, down to 9 years old.

Rather than doing trials involving tens of thousands of people, like the Pfizer and Moderna adult trials, clinical trials involving children will be done in smaller groups.

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Fauci said officials want to intensify the rollout and "to vaccinate as many people as we can, as quickly as we possibly can, because mutations occur, because the virus has a playing field, as it were, to mutate."

Vaccines are not yet approved for children, due to insufficient testing data on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in young people.

Yet the need to understand the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in children and young adults continues to grow.

Last week, a teenager died from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

"It’s heartbreaking to have to report the death of such a young person. Our condolences go out to the family and to the many families that have suffered loss related to COVID-19," said Dr. Linda Bell, the state’s chief epidemiologist.

Since CDC reporting on MIS-C began in mid-May, 47 states, New York City, and Washington, D.C. have reported at least one case of MIS-C to the CDC. Most of those jurisdictions have had 11 or more reported cases.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MIS-C is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.

Symptoms of MIS-C include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes, and feeling tired. The majority of children with MIS-C recover.

"MIS-C is a rare health condition that occurs in some children and teenagers who have contracted COVID-19 or been in contact with someone infected with the virus," DHEC wrote. "While health experts haven’t fully identified the connection between the virus and MIS-C, a surge in COVID-19 cases could lead to more MIS-C cases."