Passive and active immunity in infants born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy: prospective cohort study

BMJ Open. 2021 Jul 7;11(7):e053036. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-053036.


Objective: To investigate maternal immunoglobulins' (IgM, IgG) response to SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy and IgG transplacental transfer, to characterise neonatal antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and to longitudinally follow actively and passively acquired antibodies in infants.

Design: A prospective observational study.

Setting: Public healthcare system in Santa Clara County (California, USA).

Participants: Women with symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy and their infants were enrolled between 15 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.

Outcomes: SARS-CoV-2 serology analyses in the cord and maternal blood at delivery and longitudinally in infant blood between birth and 28 weeks of life.

Results: Of 145 mothers who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy, 86 had symptomatic infections: 78 with mild-moderate symptoms, and 8 with severe-critical symptoms. The seropositivity rates of the mothers at delivery was 65% (95% CI 0.56% to 0.73%) and the cord blood was 58% (95% CI 0.49% to 0.66%). IgG levels significantly correlated between the maternal and cord blood (Rs=0.93, p<0.0001). IgG transplacental transfer ratio was significantly higher when the first maternal positive PCR was 60-180 days before delivery compared with <60 days (1.2 vs 0.6, p<0.0001). Infant IgG seroreversion rates over follow-up periods of 1-4, 5-12, and 13-28 weeks were 8% (4 of 48), 12% (3 of 25), and 38% (5 of 13), respectively. The IgG seropositivity in the infants was positively related to IgG levels in the cord blood and persisted up to 6 months of age. Two newborns showed seroconversion at 2 weeks of age with high levels of IgM and IgG, including one premature infant with confirmed intrapartum infection.

Conclusions: Maternal SARS-CoV-2 IgG is efficiently transferred across the placenta when infections occur more than 2 months before delivery. Maternally derived passive immunity may persist in infants up to 6 months of life. Neonates are capable of mounting a strong antibody response to perinatal SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; immunology; neonatology; paediatric infectious disease & immunisation.