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No evidence breastfeeding after vaccination is anything but safe

September 28, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: VAERS report states that a baby died from blood clots and inflamed arteries after drinking breast milk from his mother, who was vaccinated against COVID-19.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing Context. The death of a six-week-old baby profiled in an online article has no proven link to COVID-19 vaccines, nor have scientists documented an established connection between vaccines and adverse reactions in nursing infants. Rather, the claim is based on a report that was submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a passive reporting platform that does not prove a vaccine caused the health issue.

THE FACTS: A misleading article circulating on social media suggests infants are developing blood clots by drinking their vaccinated mothers’ breast milk. But it presents no solid evidence to support the claim.

GreatGameIndia, which published the article, has a history of publishing misinformation about COVID-19.

Health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, recommend that breastfeeding mothers get COVID-19 vaccines.

The misleading article, which states that a second breastfeeding baby died of blood clots and inflamed arteries after the mother was vaccinated, does not provide any details about the first alleged case, and relies solely on an unverified VAERS report to describe the second case.

VAERS reports are not vetted and do not prove causation, as the AP has reported. The tool can provide early warning signals of issues with a vaccine to health officials, but the data has limitations. That’s because anyone can submit a report to VAERS on any possible reaction following vaccination. Health care providers are required to submit reports even if it’s unclear if the vaccine caused the adverse event. According to the CDC, “reports submitted to VAERS often lack details and sometimes contain errors.”

The VAERS report was submitted last month by a woman who wrote that she received the Pfizer vaccine on June 4 and that her six-week-old baby, who she was breastfeeding, got sick with a high fever about two weeks later and ultimately died on July 17.

“He was treated for 2 weeks with IV antibiotics for a supposed bacterial infection. However, they never found any specific bacteria, and called his diagnosis culture-negative sepsis. At the end of his hospital stay he tested positive for rhinovirus,” the report reads.

According to the account, the baby was diagnosed with atypical Kawasaki disease, and passed away from blood clots and inflamed arteries. The report’s author, who says she is the child’s mother, questions whether the vaccine was to blame.

Dr. Kirsi Jarvinen-Seppo, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told the AP in an email that the account in the VAERS report does not suggest a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine because the shot does not cause an active infection, but rather an immune response.

“Kawasaki’s disease is due to an overwhelming immune response to an active infection,” said Jarvinen-Seppo. “In this case the baby was acutely ill with a febrile illness and the Kawasaki’s disease likely developed in a response to this infection. In fact it’s even known that It was rhinovirus.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that because COVID-19 vaccines do not contain a live virus, they do not cause infection, and are effective at preventing the virus in people who are lactating.

Though pregnant and lactating people were left out of the original clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines, additional data has shown the vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant people.

Dr. Justin Brandt, assistant professor in the department of OB/GYN and reproductive sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said when pregnant people are vaccinated their babies can also gain immunity, and also said breastfeeding after vaccination “confers benefits to babies as well.” Some reports show that after vaccination from COVID-19 antibodies are detected in breast milk, though it’s still not known how much protection these antibodies provide.

Medical experts have said it is unlikely that the vaccine-related mRNA that is in Pfizer and Moderna shots can pass through to breast milk, and a study published in July in JAMA Pediatrics did not detect any in the milk of vaccinated mothers. According to ACOG, even if vaccine-related mRNA did make it into the milk, “it would be expected to be digested by the child and would be unlikely to have any biological effects.”

GreatGameIndia did not respond to a request for comment.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.