UF Researchers study antibody levels in breast milk of mothers who received COVID vaccine

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Posted at 1:55 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 15:40:05-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Researchers at the University of Florida are studying breast milk of lactating mothers who received the COVID-19 vaccine. New findings from the study show the breast milk contains a “significant supply” of antibodies that may help protect nursing infants from COVID-19.

ABC Action News spoke with Dr. Joseph Larkin about the research.

He is a senior author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. Dr. Larkin explained it was a small study with just over 20 women participants. The team recruited lactating health care workers who had never gotten COVID-19.

They sampled the mothers’ breast milk and blood three times to test for antibody levels: before vaccination, after the first dose, and after the second dose. All participants received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Dr. Larkin explained the key takeaways from the results showing that vaccination results in a significant increase in antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

“The vaccines are safe. Two – mom can provide protection to the babies that [one] cannot be vaccinated and [two] actually have a very limited immune system so they are not able to deal with the virus as well as an adult would,” said Dr. Larkin.

In a news release from the University of Florida about this new research, Josef Neu, M.D. who is a co-author of the study and a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics, division of neonatology, explains how breast milk can help young infants.

“During this vulnerable period, breast milk allows nursing mothers to provide infants with ‘passive immunity.’ Think of breast milk as a toolbox full of all the different tools that help prepare the infant for life. Vaccination adds another tool to the toolbox, one that has the potential to be especially good at preventing COVID-19 illness. The results of our study strongly suggest that vaccines can help protect both mom and baby, another compelling reason for pregnant or lactating women to get vaccinated,” said Neu.

Dr. Larkin went on to tell ABC Action News there is a long way to go, but this is a start on the exciting research. Right now they are working to answer a lot of questions like how effective the antibodies passed on to the baby are.

“We want to expand the study. The second thing is that although we know that there are antibodies that are present in the breast milk – we don’t know how long they are going to last. So part of our ongoing work is to see how long the antibodies last,” said Dr. Larkin.

The study was published in the journal, Breastfeeding Medicine.