Small Israeli study finds virus antibodies in breastmilk of vaccinated mothers

10 lactating women had antibodies in milk after 1st dose, with level rising a week after 2nd; scientists call for inoculation of breastfeeding women to protect their babies

An illustrative photo of a woman breastfeeding her baby. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of a woman breastfeeding her baby. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A small-scale study conducted in Israel has found coronavirus antibodies in the breastmilk of mothers vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ten lactating mothers who were members of the medical staff at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital and were vaccinated agreed to give samples of their breastmilk.

All of the samples were found to have coronavirus antibodies after one vaccine dose, with the levels increasing a week after the second dose.

The researchers found that the formation of antibodies in milk and blood is synchronized and that the antibodies that develop in breastmilk have the ability to neutralize and block the connection between the virus and the receptor on the cell, which is key to the vaccine’s ability to prevent disease.

A vaccination center in Hod Hasharon, Israel, on February 2, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prof. Ariel Many, one of the leaders of the study, which was held jointly with Tel Aviv University, told the Kan public broadcaster that the results were significant enough to confirm the importance of vaccinating breastfeeding women in the hope that it might also help protect their children.

“The meaning [of the study] is not entirely clear but it is clear that the immune response is good enough for antibodies to be transferred to the breastmilk and we know from other vaccines that there is an increase in antibodies in breastmilk,” Many said. “The antibodies were most likely absorbed in the digestive tract and this may lead to some protection for infants.”

Dr. Yariv Wine of Tel Aviv University told Channel 12 news that “the encouraging data shows that giving a coronavirus vaccine to breastfeeding women encourages the production of important antibodies in breastmilk, which may contribute to the protection of the breastfed baby.”

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

Israel has advised breastfeeding and pregnant women to be vaccinated. Expectant mothers have died from COVID-19 and dozens of others have experienced serious infections, with some leading to emergency C-sections or stillbirths.

Although vaccines are currently not approved for children, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he had been in contact with Pfizer and the company will soon announce a vaccine that is permitted.

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