While finding lower-than-expected levels of protective antibodies in umbilical cord blood, researchers found high levels of influenza antibodies, possibly from maternal flu vaccination, according to the study.
In other viruses or vaccines, antibodies tend to be transferred at much higher levels, possibly for evolutionary reasons because babies can’t develop their own antibodies until 6 months of age, Edlow said.
The study was published Dec. 22 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The new findings may have implications over how the new COVID vaccine can affect pregnancy, according to an editorial accompanying the study.
“I don’t think it’s definitive, but it raises unanswered questions about whether maternal antibodies from COVID vaccination are going to help protect the baby the way we see with, for example, influenza vaccine,” said editorial co-author Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
The findings highlight the importance of ensuring that pregnant women are included in research, Jamieson said, because scientists need to better understand how medication and vaccines work specifically in pregnant women.
“I think it’s a really exciting time. I think we now have the tools to end this pandemic. It’s going take some time, and in the meantime, pregnant women need to be vigilant and continue to protect themselves, but I’m very optimistic knowing that pregnant women are going to have access to these [COVID] vaccines,” Jamieson said.
Although children overall have more mild disease when contracting COVID-19, infants are at higher risk for severe disease. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of severe disease.
In past research, other viral infections and getting fevers in pregnancy were associated with increased risk for certain neurodevelopmental issues in offspring that include autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression, Edlow noted.
The researchers hope to follow up with the women from this study and their children in future research.
“There could be longer-term, more subtle neurodevelopmental effects or other effects on organ programming that could occur that are separate from birth defects or stillbirth or being born with COVID-19,” Edlow said. “There are potentially more subtle effects that we’ll probably need years to tease out.”