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OHSU studies impacts of COVID-19 infection, vaccination on immune system during pregnancy, lactation

Researchers aim to improve knowledge of immune system response throughout pregnancy, in the first year of life for pregnant individuals, their offspring
African American female doctor preparing a pregnant woman for vaccination. Pregnant woman getting a covid-19 vaccine.
OHSU is currently enrolling participants for a study that will observe COVID-19 infection and vaccine impacts on the immune system during pregnany, lactation.(Getty Images)

A new research study at Oregon Health & Science University aims to better understand the body’s immune response to COVID-19 during and after pregnancy.

portrait of Nicole Marshall, M.D., a smiling woman with dark curly hair
Nicole Marshall, M.D. 

Led by Nicole Marshall, M.D., M.C.R., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine, the study is currently enrolling pregnant people who have either received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, gotten a COVID-19 vaccination, or plan to get a COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy or the first 12 months following delivery.

Blood, nasal swab and human milk samples will be taken at various stages during and after pregnancy and tested for virus antibodies. Following birth, the placenta, cord blood and newborn blood samples will also be observed. Findings will help determine how and when protective COVID-19 antibodies may transfer from mother to baby both in utero and through breastfeeding.

“Similar to influenza or TDaP vaccines, which don’t contain live bacteria or virus, there are no data to indicate that currently available COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe during pregnancy or breastfeeding,” says Marshall, who also serves as associate division director of maternal-fetal medicine at OHSU. “Further, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that the vaccines should not be withheld from those who are pregnant or lactating, as data do suggest that these individuals may be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 infection.”

Recently published studies have shown strong efficacy rates for mothers and their newborns.

“While this is extremely encouraging, we must also acknowledge that, in general, scientific research of the immune system response during pregnancy is greatly lacking,” Marshall says. “Our study will help to fill this gap so we can provide the best possible care to pregnant and newborn populations, which tend to be at higher risk from certain infections.

This is especially necessary when considering, over the course of the three trimesters of pregnancy, it may be most effective to administer recommended vaccines.

“The immune system is complex and changes regularly over the course of pregnancy. What we hope to uncover is whether or not there may be specific timeframes during pregnancy when a person may be more or less susceptible to the benefits of vaccine. Additionally, how do factors, such as the mother’s underlying health conditions, changing body mass index or diabetes in pregnancy, impact antibody development?” says Marshall. “This information could provide a more robust vaccination framework that not only prepares us for future novel viruses, but also allows health care professionals to administer common seasonal vaccines more effectively, enhancing protection for both mother and baby.”

More information about the OHSU COVID and Pregnancy study, including enrollment eligibility, is available here

Pregnant individuals are encouraged to speak with their primary care providers to aid in decision making regarding the use of vaccines approved under EUA for the prevention of COVID-19.

Vaccines will not be offered as a part of study enrollment. Click here to learn more about vaccine eligibility and scheduling.

 

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