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Some moms are passing COVID-19 antibodies to their newborn babies

A study at a Pennsylvania hospital shows babies are being born with some protection from the deadly virus.

TAMPA, Fla. — With so many scary unknowns surrounding COVID-19, it's nice to have some positive news about the virus. 

A new study gives hope for babies entering the world during this pandemic. They may have a layer of protection against COVID-19 if their mothers pass along antibodies to them. 

The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association of Pediatrics found evidence that women who get COVID-19 while pregnant could pass along COVID antibodies to their newborns.

The study looked at babies born at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia between April and August of last year. More than 1,500 babies were born during that time. Of those cases, 83 moms were found to have COVID-19 antibodies. Seventy-two of their babies tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies through their umbilical cord blood.

"As mom gets exposed, she produces antibodies. One of those is in the form of IgG, immunoglobulin G. That's the one that passes to the baby and it's nice to see that it reiterates what we know about other vaccines and disease protection. It does protect the baby as far as we can tell," explained Dr. Prem Fort, a neonatologist at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

The study also found that those who had the infection earlier on in their pregnancy passed along more antibodies to their infants. This means the information can help researchers determine when to vaccinate pregnant moms since they were not included in the clinical trials and development of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The antibodies found in the babies were IgG, the ones produced a few days after infection and are thought to offer some long-term protection. Whether or not these antibodies can protect little ones from other rapidly spreading variants of COVID-19 needs to be studied.

"The African variant seems to be the one where it's so varied it [antibodies] maybe protects you less. Whether it does so with babies, that's an even bigger unknown," said Dr. Fort. 

He also says this new information is consistent with what we know about other infections and vaccines. The antibody transfer process works the same way as it does with other vaccines women can get while pregnant: blood holding the antibodies filters through the placenta to the infant.  

The CDC provides this information on whether or not expecting moms should be vaccinated against COVID-19: CDC and the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) have provided information to assist pregnant people with their decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, ACIP recommends that certain groups (e.g., healthcare personnel, followed by other frontline essential workers) are offered vaccination during the first months of the COVID-19 vaccination program. People who are pregnant and part of a group recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may choose to be vaccinated. If they have questions about getting vaccinated, a discussion with a healthcare provider might help them make an informed decision. 

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