A doctor in Bethesda, Maryland, is among the first mothers in the country to give birth to a baby with COVID-19 antibodies. She shared her story as doctors work to answer key questions about immunity to the virus and possible protection for babies.
Dr. Maggie Burke’s daughter, Dottie, was born March 13 with antibodies after her mother was vaccinated with one dose of the Pfizer vaccine at 27 weeks pregnant and a second dose three weeks later.
“It was a bit of a relief to know that she does have some protection, some antibodies. But there’s so much we don't know, and how much protection that really gives her is still unknown,” Burke said.
Burke is an OB-GYN at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Being pregnant during a pandemic can be nerve-wracking. Burke faced additional risk because of potential exposure at the hospital. The first-time mom decided the known benefits of the vaccine outweighed the unknowns.
“I was at a greater risk of COVID because of my risk of exposure working at the hospital. I compared that to the low theoretical risk of a new, unknown vaccine and, for me at the time, I was most comfortable going ahead and getting the vaccine to protect against COVID,” she said.
Dottie weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces and was 21 inches long. Not only was she beautiful and healthy; lab tests revealed her mother passed down antibodies to her.
Burke’s case and a handful of others across the country show pregnant women who get vaccinated can pass on protective antibodies to their babies through the placenta.
No one knows yet how long that protection lasts. The science is evolving, said Dr. Gayle Balba, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown.
“We are right now studying at what level the antibody is protective for a newborn, as well as how long this may last,” she said.
One thing is clear: COVID-19 poses a major risk to pregnant women.
“Pregnant women are more likely to require [hospital] admission, to require a ventilator to help them breathe, or to even die from COVID-19,” Balba said.
Pregnant women infected with the virus also face a higher risk of preterm deliveries and stillbirths.
Still, many women grapple with the decision to get vaccinated. Burke said she shared her story to help empower others, no matter what they decide.
“Each decision is very personal to each patient … which is why it's so important when we have new information coming out like this, that we use this to discuss with our patients, so that they feel comfortable and confident with the decision that they make, whichever way they decide,” she said.
One recent study found that vaccinated mothers who breastfed their babies were able to pass down antibodies, which means immunity could potentially be transferred to babies before and after they’re born.
Both Burke and Balba said it's important for women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant to talk with their health care providers about what’s right for them.