Vaccination is a cornerstone in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the initial messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine clinical trials excluded several vulnerable groups, including young children and lactating individuals.1 The US Food and Drug Administration deferred the decision to authorize COVID-19 mRNA vaccines for infants younger than 6 months until more data are available because of the potential priming of the children’s immune responses that may alter their immunity.2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends offering the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines to breastfeeding individuals,3 although the possible passage of vaccine mRNAs in breast milk resulting in infants’ exposure at younger than 6 months was not investigated. This study investigated whether the COVID-19 vaccine mRNA can be detected in the expressed breast milk (EBM) of lactating individuals receiving the vaccination within 6 months after delivery.
This cohort study included 11 healthy lactating individuals who received either the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine (n = 5) or the Pfizer BNT162b2 vaccine (n = 6) within 6 months after delivery (Table 1). Participants were asked to collect and immediately freeze EBM samples at home until transported to the laboratory. Samples of EBM were collected before vaccination (control) and for 5 days postvaccination. A total of 131 EBM samples were collected 1 hour to 5 days after vaccine administration. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) were isolated in EBM using sequential centrifugation, and the EV concentrations were determined by ZetaView (Analytik) (eMethods in the Supplement). The presence of COVID-19 vaccine mRNA in different milk fractions (whole EBM, fat, cells, and supernatant EVs) was assayed using 2-step quantitative reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction. The vaccine detection limit was 1 pg/mL of EBM (eMethods in the Supplement).
Of 11 lactating individuals enrolled, trace amounts of BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 COVID-19 mRNA vaccines were detected in 7 samples from 5 different participants at various times up to 45 hours postvaccination (Table 2). The mean (SD) yield of EVs isolated from EBM was 9.110 (5.010) particles/mL, and the mean (SD) particle size was 110.0 (3.0) nm. The vaccine mRNA appears in higher concentrations in the EVs than in whole milk (Table 2). No vaccine mRNA was detected in prevaccination or postvaccination EBM samples beyond 48 hours of collection. Also, no COVID-19 vaccine mRNA was detected in the EBM fat fraction or the EBM cell pellets.