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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Can pregnant moms transfer COVID-19 immunity to babies? Doctor weighs in on research

Posted at 5:09 AM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 05:09:07-04

America is expecting a 2020-2021 baby bust. Research from the Brookings Institute suggests the pandemic may result in 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies.

In fact, a recent survey shows 34% of American women are delaying plans to have a child or reducing the number of children they expect to have as a result of the pandemic.

Almost half of adults surveyed reported a decline in their sex life. Even Google data shows pregnancy-related search terms like ultrasound and morning sickness are down, too.

The push to vaccinate all adults in the US is ramping up. By the end of next month, all adults are expected to be eligible to get the vaccine and that includes expectant mothers.

"I had, like, this really bad headache. I had a fever. I was sweating a lot."

Although there will be fewer of them, new research suggests pregnant women might not only be able to protect themselves from the virus, but also their baby.

Jenifer Pinedo is a new mom and a COVID-`19 survivor. She contracted the virus when she was 36 months pregnant. It was stressful mentally and physically.

"I had, like, this really bad headache. I had a fever. I was sweating a lot," she said.

While Pinedo has mostly recovered, she said her heart still races sometimes, but her ability to fight off the coronavirus may offer some protection for her little girl, Celina

"Your OBGYN says that Celina might have some protection for from at three months for sure, yet three months for sure," she said.

Dr. Kurt Wharton, the chief of women's & children's clinical care at Beaumont, said there is a point where newborns are still vulnerable.

"There is this window between the time that a baby's born and it starts to receive its vaccination where it's quite vulnerable," he said.

But, new research shows the potential for maternal COVID-19 antibodies, like the one Jenifer has, can to pass from mother to baby in the womb. That maternal protection can be life-saving.
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania on COVID-19 antibodies transferring by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd


"What provides is the long-term protection for hopefully years, decades, or perhaps even the rest of our life for the antibodies known as IGG," Wharton said.

Wharton said it's too soon to say how long any COVID-19 immunity will last, but any protection for babies with their weak natural defenses and developing respiratory systems is essential. At this point, he said, scientists don't believe COVID-19 can cross the placenta and infect a baby in the womb; mom's long-term immune response – those IGG antibodies – can.

That's one reason why Fowlerville mom Erin Arnst got the vaccine. Erin is six months pregnant and both she and her husband Ben are essential workers.

"Did you have any concerns about getting the vaccine while you were pregnant?" Keenan Smith asked.

"No, actually, what's funny is I scheduled my first shot before I even talk to my obstetrician," she said.

Arnst works in Clinical pathology at Michigan State University and has been following the science. She got the vaccine to protect her family and the little girl on the way.

"Our life will continue with going to work and sending our toddler to daycare, so the better prepared our household can be," she said.

According to the American College of OB/GYNs:

  • Symptomatic pregnant patients with COVID-19 are at increased risk of more severe illness compared with non-pregnant peers
  • Pregnant women are at increased risk of ICU admission, need for ventilation and death

They go on to say although the risk for severe COVID-19 is low, pregnant women are at increased risk of ICU admission, need for ventilation, and death.

"Pregnancy causes tremendous changes in a woman's lungs and her ability to take a deep breath. She doesn't have the reserve once she becomes sick," Wharton said.

That's why Wharton says the COVID-19 vaccine is important for all pregnant women. But is the immune response from the vaccine the same as fighting off the virus?

"It's all very preliminary, but we believe the vaccination offers a longer period of immunity," Wharton said.

That's for both mom and baby.

"It's all very preliminary, but we believe the vaccination offers a longer period of immunity."

We still don't know how long that our COVID-19 immune response will last. But during that critical window after birth – before the baby's immune system kicks in – that immunity from mom plays a vital role and can offer some coverage during that window.

Dr. Wharton says there is misinformation out there that the vaccine can cause infertility. He has that is simply not true.

Wharton all pregnant women, breastfeeding women and women thinking about having a baby should be vaccinated for the safety of both mom and baby.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

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