A study by the University of Florida finds that vaccinated mothers transfer COVID antibodies to babies via breast milk – suggesting that mothers can “pass on this immunity to their babies”
The COVID pandemic highlighted thousands of existing health inequities across the world. Maternal care is at the forefront of public health concerns about the virus.
The breast milk of a vaccinated mother can contain a significant amount of antibodies, according to the new research.
Dr Joseph Larkin III, senior author of the study and an associate professor in the UF/IFAS department of microbiology and cell science, said: “Our findings show that vaccination results in a significant increase in antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — in breast milk, suggesting that vaccinated mothers can pass on this immunity to their babies, something we are working to confirm in our ongoing research.”
Antibodies went through 100-fold increase
For the study, researchers recruited 21 lactating health care workers who had never contracted COVID-19. The research team sampled the mothers’ breast milk and blood three times – before vaccination, after the first dose and after the second dose.
“We saw a robust antibody response in blood and breast milk after the second dose — about a hundred-fold increase compared with levels before vaccination,” said Lauren Stafford, a doctoral student in Larkin’s lab.
Can breast milk be a substitute for baby vaccination?
It is not clear, but milk provides some protection.
Babies sometimes are too young to respond adequately to certain types of vaccines.
Dr Josef Neu, a study co-author and a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics, division of neonatology, said that breast milk allows nursing mothers to provide infants with “passive immunity.”
Dr Neu further commented: “Think of breast milk as a toolbox full of all the different tools that help prepare the infant for life. Vaccination adds another tool to the toolbox, one that has the potential to be especially good at preventing COVID-19 illness.
“The results of our study strongly suggest that vaccines can help protect both mom and baby, another compelling reason for pregnant or lactating women to get vaccinated.”
What about mothers in the Global South?
When it comes to vaccination, some mothers in the Global South remain far from being able to get a COVID vaccine. In addition to this lack of antibody defence, these mothers are faced with scarcity of health resources too – creating more and more preventable fatalities via pregnancy.
Mahesh Karra, Assistant Professor of Global Development Policy at Boston University and not involved in this study, said: “Improving the health and well-being of mothers, infants, and children is a public health priority.
“Although much progress has been made to reduce maternal and child morbidity and mortality, nearly 830 women and 18,000 children continue to die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with most of these deaths occurring in LMICs, like India, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others.”