WASHINGTON — You may have heard that breastfeeding mothers who are vaccinated for COVID-19, pass antibodies through their breastmilk.
But what do we know about lactating mothers and the COVID vaccine?
The VERIFY team asked the experts.
Dr. Cecilia Tomori- Director of Global Public Health and Community Health at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
Dr. Sahira Long- Medical Director for the Children's National Hospital Anacostia location
Dr. Ann Kellams- Professor of Pediatrics and Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs at the University of Virginia Department of Pediatrics, director of the breastfeeding medicine program at the University of Virginia
Should lactating women get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Our experts all agree the answer is yes.
“So I would absolutely recommend it, and actually, now that it's now that we've been vaccinating people for a while and some of the healthcare workers were the first to start receiving the vaccine, we are accumulating data,” Dr. Ann Kellams said.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists were among the first organizations to recommend that the vaccine be offered to pregnant and lactating women.
“While lactating individuals were not included in most clinical trials, COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from lactating individuals who otherwise meet criteria for vaccination," ACOG writes online. "Theoretical concerns regarding the safety of vaccinating lactating individuals do not outweigh the potential benefits of receiving the vaccine.”
Dr. Sahira Long, medical director at Children's National Hospital's location in Anacostia, D.C. agreed.
"So at this point, based on the limited data that's available, the vaccines appear to be safe in lactating women," Dr. Long told the VERIFY team. "So as a health care provider and lactation consultant, I do recommend that if there's no other contraindication to getting the vaccine that women definitely be offered the vaccine."
Is there evidence that breastfeeding mothers who are vaccinated for COVID-19, can pass antibodies through their breastmilk?
A study from Israel showed a "robust secretion" of two SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (IgA and IgB) six weeks post-vaccination, with signs of antibodies as early as two weeks after the vaccine. Eighty-four women participated in the study and provided 504 breast milk samples.
Other studies showed similar patterns with smaller sample sizes.
Numerous studies on the topic have been published, however, not all are peer-reviewed yet.
"So take that with a grain of salt," Dr. Long said. "But from the studies that have come out, there's robust antibody response more so after vaccination and after natural infection in breast milk.”
"They [Pre-print studies] have only confirmed our feeling that what we would have predicted is that A) it would be safe and B) there would be the transfer of antibodies, and that’s what we’re seeing in the preliminary data," Dr. Kellams added.
Is there any evidence that these antibodies can protect infants?
"At this point, it's not really known," Dr. Long said. "It's definitely something that researchers are interested in studying, including myself, but it's not something that we have the data to support either way at this point."
Even though scientists haven't proven whether ingesting breastmilk with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies offers any sort of protection, it's something both Dr. Kellams and Dr. Tomori anticipate in future studies.
“What is the degree of protection? You know, how long does it last? Those are scientific questions that we should explore," Dr. Tomori said. "But I think it's safe to say that there will be some degree of protection.”