Getting Vaccinated While Pregnant Can Help Pass Antibodies to Newborns

A pregnant woman is seen about to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
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  • Research has shown that pregnant people have a greater risk of developing severe illness and complications from COVID-19 compared with nonpregnant people. 
  • A 2021 study found another benefit of getting vaccinated: Newborns are born with a high level of antibodies. 
  • A new CDC study has found that getting vaccinated did not increase the risk of preterm birth or infants being born underweight.

Since the COVID-19 vaccines became available in December 2020, doctors have strongly encouraged pregnant people to get immunized against COVID-19 to protect not only themselves, but their newborns as well. 

Research has shown that pregnant people have a greater risk of developing severe illness and complications from COVID-19 compared with nonpregnant people. 

Pregnant people who are unvaccinated are also more likely to experience preterm birth and have worse birth outcomes than pregnant people who have been vaccinated. 

A study from researchers at New York University (NYU) found another benefit of getting vaccinated: Newborns whose mothers had received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had high levels of antibodies. 

“The best news is when a pregnant woman gets vaccinated, the newborn has protective antibodies against COVID. Getting the COVID vaccine is a win-win for mother and baby,” Dr. Sheryl Ross, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline. 

More evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has further established that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe during pregnancy.

The study, which included health outcomes for over 40,000 pregnant women, found no associated link between the vaccines and preterm birth or low birth weight. 

The evidence further supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccination in pregnant people — a group known to experience more serious illness and birth complications when they have COVID-19.

How vaccination potentially protects newborns 

The 2021 report from NYU measured antibody levels in 36 newborns whose mothers had received one of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna). 

Researchers found that all of the newborns had high levels of antibodies. 

Babies born to mothers who had been vaccinated within 13 weeks of delivery had higher levels of antibodies, compared with newborns whose mothers received the shots more than 20 weeks before giving birth. 

“Immunity will be passed to the fetus through the umbilical cord,” said Dr. Daniel Roshan, a high risk maternal-fetal OB-GYN based in New York City. 

According to researchers, more data is needed to understand how protected the babies were and how timing the shots could affect the level of immunity passed to newborns. 

The researchers concluded that the findings add to the growing list of reasons for pregnant people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The benefits of vaccinating pregnant people 

Pregnant people face an increased risk of complications from COVID-19 compared with the general population.

“Since pregnancy decreases the immune state, it is recommended to receive the vaccine at any trimester,” Roshan said.

Studies have found that pregnant women with a coronavirus infection have a greater risk of hospitalization, intubation, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and maternal death. 

In recent weeks, as the highly contagious Omicron variant has circulated, pregnant people are more at risk of developing COVID-19.

Vaccination rates among pregnant people have been relatively low

Given pregnant people’s increased risk of severe illness and complications from COVID-19, the CDC is urging them to get vaccinated. 

“These are preventable complications by getting the COVID vaccine during pregnancy,” Ross said. 

Evidence suggests that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are just as safe and effective in pregnant people as they are in nonpregnant people.

The shots are not associated with any dangerous complications like miscarriage or infertility as some people falsely believe, Ross said.

The bottom line

A study has found that newborns whose mothers had received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine had high levels of antibodies, highlighting another benefit of vaccination in pregnant people.

Pregnant people are at higher risk of developing severe illness or complications from COVID-19.

Given the increased spread of the Omicron variant, health officials are urging pregnant people to get vaccinated.

Another study out this month from the CDC found more evidence that vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant people.

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