COVID vaccine found to prevent neonatal complications

Tuesday, 27 February, 2024

COVID vaccine found to prevent neonatal complications

DNA changes consistent with life-threatening pregnancy complications have been found in the placentas of pregnant women infected by COVID-19, according to a study helmed by Queensland researchers.

Dr Arutha Kulasinghe, from The University of Queensland (UQ)’s Frazer Institute, led the study which compared placental tissue from unvaccinated women — who’d tested positive to SARS-CoV-2 within 15 days of giving birth — with the placentas of women who’d not been vaccinated or infected with the virus. The results were published in the journal Clinical & Translational Immunology.

“We know viral infections in pregnancy can disrupt placental function and increase the likelihood of late-onset pre-eclampsia, preterm birth and stillbirth,” Kulasinghe said. “However, the mechanism through which COVID-19 predisposes pregnancies to these conditions has been unclear.

“Using digital spatial profiling, we discovered the virus disrupts placental function by altering the genomic architecture of the cells critical to providing nutrients and blood supply to unborn babies. We also found the DNA fingerprints of poor placental oxygenation, stress and pre-eclampsia in the COVID-19 patients.”

Co-author Dr Ismail Sebina, also from UQ, said infections in pregnancy have always been linked with complications, “but it wasn’t clear how a respiratory virus in pregnancy could impact a baby in utero”.

“We found strong links between COVID-19 in pregnancy and the pathophysiology of pre-eclampsia, a severe and common pregnancy complication,” he said.

“We have identified molecules in the placenta that could be the targets of future research to understand the underlying biology of this association.

“This is significant because we could predict which pregnancies are likely to progress towards pre-eclampsia — and intervene before it happens.”

The news was announced just days after a separate study published in JAMA confirmed that COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy was not associated with any increased risks in newborn infants. On the contrary, the study showed that babies born by women who chose to be vaccinated were less likely to suffer serious complications, including death.

The study included 196,470 newborns in Sweden and Norway where 48% of the mothers had been vaccinated with one or more doses of an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19; almost 80% had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and just over 20% the vaccine from Moderna. The first baby was born in June 2021 and the last one in January 2023. All were followed up for at least one month or as long as they were admitted to a neonatal unit.

In addition to lower infant mortality, the researchers also found a significantly lower risk of two other serious complications in infants born to mothers who had been vaccinated. In total, 15 neonatal complications and conditions were studied.

“We saw lower rates of cerebral haemorrhages and hypoxia-ischemic conditions of the brain in the newborns of vaccinated than in babies of unvaccinated in pregnancy, while the incidence of other bleedings, blood clots or inflammation in various organ systems did not differ between the groups,” said Professor Mikael Norman, first author of the study, from Karolinska Institutet.

“It is … very important for the 100,000 women who become pregnant every year in Sweden, and the 130 million in the world, to know that vaccination with mRNA-vaccines against COVID-19 is safe for their babies,” Norman said.

“If anything, infants to vaccinated women had lower risks for some severe outcomes.”

Image credit: Productions

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