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More babies are being born with coronavirus immunity

Published Dec 18th, 2020 8:11PM EST
Coronavirus Immunity
Image: maxbelchenko/Adobe
  • A new coronavirus study from Singapore indicates that babies whose mothers are infected during pregnancy are likely to be born with COVID-19 antibodies.
  • The neutralizing antibodies could provide immunity from birth, although researchers can’t say what sort of protection the babies get or how long it will last.
  • Of the 16 pregnant women in the studies, five gave birth by the time it was published, and all the newborns had detectable levels of antibodies in their blood. Two women lost their babies, and one of the miscarriages might have been caused by COVID-19 complications.

Neutralizing antibodies are the proteins the immune system creates to stop a virus from spreading. The antibodies bind to the spike protein, preventing it from infecting cells. Coronavirus vaccines will actually teach the immune system to respond to the infection by inducing antibodies specific to COVID-19. Antibodies might disappear after a while, but the COVID-19 protection might last longer than that thanks to another set of immune system components: B and T cells patrolling the blood that will retain the memory of the virus.

Researchers have no idea how long coronavirus immunity will last, whether the protection follows infection or exposure to the virus. There’s hope immunity might last at least a year, but more time will have to pass for researchers to make such determinations. However, a subset of the population could have COVID-19 immunity from the moment they’re born: Babies whose mothers survived the coronavirus during pregnancy.

A few days ago, a report from Singapore said that a baby was born with antibodies that can neutralize the novel coronavirus. Essentially, the newborn has COVID-19 immunity right out of the womb. His mother contracted the illness early into the pandemic and early into her pregnancy. She was just 10 weeks pregnant when she was infected and gave birth to a healthy baby boy in mid-November. The mother no longer has coronavirus antibodies, but her son does.

At the time, it wasn’t clear whether all mothers who were infected with the pathogen during pregnancy will give birth to children with detectable coronavirus antibodies. The news comes from the same country, as researchers report an increasing number of babies with antibodies. Reuters reports that a new study says five babies were born to women with COVID-19 infection, and all of them have antibodies.

The study looked at 16 women and found that most of them experienced a mild case of COVID-19. Older women and those with a higher body mass index experienced a more severe version of the illness.

Five of them had given birth by the time the study was published, and all mothers had antibodies.

The researchers also measured the antibody levels in children and found that babies with mothers who had the illness closer to the illness had higher amounts of antibodies.

None of the women passed on the virus to the babies, the research found. None of the pregnant women died, but two of them lost their babies. Only one of the two prenatal fatalities could be linked to COVID-19 complications.

The study might be limited, but the Singapore Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research Network said in a statement that “the study results were reassuring.”

“This demonstrates that the incidence and severity of COVID-19 among pregnant women parallels general population trends,” the group said.

That said, researchers still warn it’s not clear what sort of protection the antibodies will give the babies, and more data is required. Babies and children usually experience milder cases of COVID-19, but there have been exceptions. The researchers will monitor the babies to see if the antibodies decline in time. A different Reuters report on the matter points to research from China that said that antibodies declined in babies born from COVID-19 survivors.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.