Israeli study: Babies born to vaccinated moms have COVID-fighting antibodies

All 40 infants in Jerusalem research have antibodies, suggesting they are born with immunity to coronavirus, according to Hadassah doctors

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A baby, born during the pandemic, with the mother (vlada_maestro via iStock by Getty Images)
A baby, born during the pandemic, with the mother (vlada_maestro via iStock by Getty Images)

When pregnant women get COVID vaccines, their babies are born with ready-made COVID-fighting antibodies, Israeli doctors have found.

A team at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem checked blood from the umbilical cords of 40 newborns, which is the same as the baby’s blood, and found that all had a strong supply of antibodies — just like their mothers who had been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Believed to be the largest study of its kind, the researchers believe that the find vindicates health officials’ call to pregnant women to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. And with the world constantly looking to Israel for new data on the impact of vaccines, the finding is likely to have strong international resonance.

“This is an important finding that is reassuring, suggesting that vaccinated mothers pass COVID-19 protection to their babies before they are born,” Prof. Dana Wolf, head of Hadassah’s virology department, told The Times of Israel.

A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine to a pregnant woman at a Clalit Health Services facility in Tel Aviv, on January 23, 2021(AFP)

“It underscores the importance of vaccinating pregnant women, and the benefits of doing so.”

The babies in the study were born to mothers spanning a range of ages, who had all received their second vaccine shot at least a week earlier.

Wolf noted that initially, health authorities did not recommend pregnant women receive the vaccine, but recently the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, Israel’s Ministry of Health and others supported immunizing pregnant women. She said her study offers further vindication of this decision.

Partial results from the research — covering half of the babies examined — have been posted online in an early version of the study, that is not yet peer-reviewed. The findings come on the heels of another Israeli study that suggests that vaccinated mothers pass antibodies to their newborns through breast milk.

Prof. Dana Wolf, head of Hadassah Medical Center’s virology department (courtesy of Hadassah)

“In our study, we found immunoglobulin G antibodies that are active against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which basically block the entry of the virus to cells. This follows research which suggests that great milk has another type of antibodies, Immunoglobulin A,” said Wolf.

She said that the research has not established with certainty that the antibodies deliver protection against infection, but she strongly believes they will. There is, she noted, no information on how long the babies will retain their antibodies, or any protection they may provide.

Wolf conducted her research with colleagues from Hadassah’s obstetrics and gynecology department, including Amihai Rottenstreich and Shay Potrat.

“Our methodology has been to follow vaccinated women admitted for delivery from February, and if they agree, at time of delivery we look at maternal blood and blood from the umbilical cord which is the same as the blood from the fetus.

“From looking at the blood we have found that vaccinated women, all of whom were given both shots in the third trimester, had very high antibody levels, and more importantly that there is an efficient transfer of the antibodies from the mother to the fetus via the placenta.

“The finding is that the antibodies are effectively passed to newborns and we believe this means the protection against the coronavirus is passed on.”

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