A new study, summarized in a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics reveals that a number of factors, including the negative effects of the pandemic during pregnancy, healthcare experiences and reports of discrimination, reduce the likelihood that babies will receive the vaccines they recommend in the first months of life. Led by Heidi Preis, MSW, PhD, at Stony Brook University, the study serves as an indicator that focusing on vulnerable pregnant women, especially during a public health crisis, may help promote infant vaccination.
Early vaccination of babies is one of the strongest predictors of future vaccination. Vaccination of infants decreased at the onset of the pandemic and remains a problem, as the spread of misinformation has led some parents to hesitate about the vaccine. That’s one of the reasons we continue to educate families about the importance of vaccinating babies. “
Heidi Price, Principal Investigator, Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology and Research Assistant in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at the Renaissance Medical School at Stony Brook University
The data that led to the findings come from the Stony Brook University COVID-19 Pregnancy Experience (SB-COPE) study. SB-COPE launched in April 2020 and monitors 7,000 women in the United States who were pregnant during the pandemic. Price and his colleagues collect data from women over time, examining various results from the physical and mental health of mothers and their children. For this study, data on the immunization status of more than 1,000 babies born between April and July 2020 were analyzed.
According to the research team, babies born to certain groups of mothers are less likely to receive the recommended vaccines three to five months after birth, including mothers who lost income during the pandemic, those who are dissatisfied with their birth experience and women who had less education, were younger, or cared for additional children. The most affected mothers are those whose prenatal care is provided by telehealth, and women who have had a shorter stay in hospital after birth: their babies are 2.6 times less likely to be fully vaccinated between the ages of three and five months. In addition, babies of women who have experienced discrimination during pregnancy because of their race, gender, sexuality, or body size are 2.3 times less likely to be fully vaccinated at that age.
The ongoing SB-COPE study was funded by a seed grant for COVID-19 from the office of the Vice President of Research at Stony Brook University and the Institute of Engineering-Oriented Medicine. The work is in cooperation between the departments of psychology, obstetrics and gynecology, applied mathematics and statistics, psychiatry and pediatrics.
Additional research grants include support from the National Institutes of Health (grant № R21DA049827). The co-authors of this publication are Dr. Marcy Lobel, Dr. Brittan Mahafi and Dr. Susmita Patti, all from Stony Brook University.
Other published findings by SB-COPE have so far documented increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems among women who became pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic, and the impact of this distress on women’s and babies’ health.