We're Finally Learning Something About Pregnancy and Covid

We're Finally Learning Something About Pregnancy and Covid
Photo:Luis Acosta (Getty Images)

The pandemic has been an awful time to be a pregnant person for about a million different reasons, but foremost among them must be how little information there is about how covid interacts with pregnancy.

It was only in November that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were able to conclude that pregnant women were more likely to suffer severe complications from the virus. This finding contradicted the results of an earlier study, requiring the CDC to add pregnancy among its list of conditions that can worsen the effects of covid some eight months into the pandemic. And when the vaccine started to become available in December, health officials said that while there was no reason to believe there were any specific risks to pregnant people, there was “very little data” to assess the vaccine’s definitive safety for the group. Pregnant women were advised to consult their doctors.

A recent finding, however, might actually be helpful: Mounting evidence suggests that people who get covid while pregnant may pass on antibodies to their newborns, giving them natural immunity.

The latest assurance comes from a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, which also suggested that pregnant people transfer more antibodies to their fetuses if they contract the virus earlier in their pregnancy. The study found that the specific type of antibodies detected in the fetuses were immunoglobulin G antibodies, the type that offer more long-term immunity from the virus, scientists believe.

Scott E. Hensley, one of the study’s authors, said that while there still needs to be more research into how the vaccine affects pregnant people (as we know), the results suggest it may be advantageous to vaccine people earlier in pregnancy to maximize immunity for the fetus.

There are still some factors that require further investigation. According to the New York Times, researchers aren’t sure if the antibodies are enough to prevent the newborns from contracting covid, and they’re not sure if premature babies reap the same benefits as those carried to term. Still, it seems that this finding at least gives pregnant people and their healthcare providers some practical guidance about the benefits of the vaccine and the ideal time to get it.

Most of all it calls attention to how important it is to continue learning more. Pregnant people were excluded from early vaccine trials, and including them could help bring all of these nebulous findings into focus.

“It’s plausible that the Covid vaccine will offer protection to both pregnant mothers and their infants,” Mark Turrentine, a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology’s covid-19 obstetrics expert work group, told the Times. “To me, this study highlights that inclusion of pregnant women in clinical trials such as the covid-19 vaccine is essential, particularly when the benefit of vaccination is greater than the potential risk of a life-threatening disease.”

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