Babies who are too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19 might be more protected than previously thought, a new study shows.
Researchers from the University of Florida have found that babies who consume the breast milk of vaccinated people have COVID-19 antibodies in their gastrointestinal tract.
The study builds on previous research that showed the breast milk of vaccinated people carried antibodies for COVID-19, the mechanism needed to fight off an infection. What scientists didn’t know was whether that protection could also be transferred to babies who consumed it.
By testing the poop of babies who have consumed breast milk from vaccinated people, scientists have found COVID-19 antibodies are present in a baby’s gastrointestinal tract.
COVID-19 is often thought of as a lung disease, but “it can also invade the gut, which is why finding antibodies there is significant,” according to a UF release.
The study also measured the antibodies in vaccinated people’s blood plasma and breast milk at different times after vaccination and found the “antibodies in the plasma and milk of vaccinated people were better able to neutralize the virus,” but the levels of antibodies declined over time.
“In our research, we’re following the journey of the antibodies, from the time they are produced in mom after vaccination and now through the baby’s digestive system. The next question is whether those babies are less likely to get COVID-19,” Josef Neu, a co-author of the study, said in the release.
The study was relatively small, only 62 participants, so the researchers say more data is needed. But, the research adds to a growing body of evidence that shows the potential benefits for newborns when pregnant people are vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for children under 6 months old, so the researchers believe “breast milk may be the only avenue for providing immunity.”
The CDC does recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for people who are currently pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant or may want to become pregnant in the future.
This story was originally published January 13, 2023 3:43 PM.